Jul 012013 19 Responses

8 Leadership Lessons Ella Taught Me in her First 8 Years

The greatest classroom I have ever sat in regarding the topic of leadership is the classroom of parenting a child with special needs.

Here are 8 Leadership lessons my daughter has taught me in her first 8 years.

1. Never let one aspect of a person define the whole person. Ella has Down syndrome, but she also has many other defining qualities. While the diagnosed condition is significant, it is far more significant to doctors than to Ella. It far more defines her in other people’s eyes than in her own. We should never let one aspect of someone—being in a wheelchair, a political party, where they are from, etc—define the whole person.

2. What appears obvious to one person might be unknown to another. Ella saw someone with Down syndrome the other day and asked her mom why that girl looked different. It was an important step in development. It means Ella is close to understanding her own condition, but she isn’t there yet. She can recognize the difference in others, but not herself. How true is that for all of us? Not only are we unaware of things about ourselves which are obvious to others, but we also assume others know things about themselves which are obvious to us. Never assume someone knows.

3. Life is rarely what you expect it to be. This is good and bad. I would have never expected parenting to be as difficult as it is. Nothing reveals my sinfulness more than parenting. Yet I would have never expected raising a child with Down syndrome to be the blessing it has been. Be very careful about making decisions based on assumptions of what the future will be like. Sometimes the good can be bad and the bad can be good.

4. Focusing on today is normally the best approach. While we have to be prepared for the future, most of our worries and concerns are about future events. Generally, the present is a pretty peaceful place. Most of my concerns regarding Ella have very little to do with today and are much more centered around how she will be treated or who will take care of her in the future. Be aware of the future, but live in today. This is especially true in regards to worry. If you are overwhelmed with worry, ask yourself: “does any of this affect this moment?” Normally, the answer is no.

5. Beware of manipulation. While Ella’s development is delayed in nearly every area, she is matured beyond her years in two areas—stubbornness and manipulation. She can use her pouting face better than any child I know. This gets her carried to places. It convinces others to do things for her which she can clearly do on her own. And the whole time, she loves it. We all have the power to manipulate or be manipulated. We should withstand the temptation in both instances.

6. Cheer every achievement. It is easy to think that only the achievements which happen early or on time are worth cheering, but the truth is that every accomplishment deserves to be celebrated. Does it matter less when Ella learns how to spell a word correctly after first missing it on the test rather than getting it right the first time? Is a first step less meaningful at the age of 4 than the age of 2? Throw out the calendar, forget the expectations, and cheer for people whenever they achieve a goal.

7. Sometimes you need to stop achieving and just “be.” Ella’s schedule can be exhausting. Homework takes twice as long to accomplish. She has some type of therapy most days. A great amount of energy goes into helping her develop. All of that is important, but at some point we have to stop trying to accomplish goals and just enjoy who she is. Work is great, but it can’t be everything we are. Sometimes we need to take more joy in being rather than doing.

8. Learn from those you are supposed to teach. Ella is one of my best teachers even though I am suppose to be her instructor. Life is better lived when we are learning from each other. I wonder how many lessons are missed because we focus on our responsibility to be the teacher and we miss our opportunity to be the student.


19 Responses to 8 Leadership Lessons Ella Taught Me in her First 8 Years
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