May 222016 2 Responses

When a Man Acts Like a Child

My niece is taller than me. As a junior in high school, it is striking to see a girl who is 6’4″. She has always been tall. She was so tall as a child, her mom had to travel with her birth certificate to sporting events.

When she was four or five, I had to continually remind myself that she was only 4 or 5. She was so tall that she looked far older than she actually was. If I didn’t remind myself, I would be confused why she was acting so immature. She wasn’t acting immature; she was acting her actual age and not what she looked like. (See: Leadership–Learning to Take a Punch)

As a leader, there are times in which someone who looks like an adult does not act their age. On occasion, a man acts like a child.

We see it:

  • at home when a husband refuses to live by his vows and acts like he is 18
  • at work when someone doesn’t get his way and yells and screams like child
  • at the ball field when a coach loses perspective at a child’s game and rants at an umpire

It can happen to any of us in a situation. We can lose our bearings, forget our surroundings, and act like a child.

It happens to others more regularly, they don’t get their way and struggle to respond like an adult.

It happens to some in all situations because they lack the emotional ability to see how their actions influence others. As a three year-old cannot fully understand how their tantrum makes their mom feel, some people do not have the capability to see the pain they inflict on others.

As a leader, it is vital to understand that sometimes a man will act like a child. It might disappoint us, but it shouldn’t surprise us. And we should know how to handle it.

Two Responses to Childish Behavior

Good leaders respond to childish behavior in two key ways:

1. They refuse to respond like a child. The temptation when someone acts like a child is to begin acting like them. They yell so you yell back. They make petty accusations so you respond in kind. It’s a tempting response, but it’s not a good one. Whether in parenting or leadership, when someone acts like a child, the person in charge must continue to act like an adult. When leaders respond like children, everyone suffers.

2. They refuse to be moved by the child. A second temptation when someone acts like a child is to allow them to get their way. Like a parent who caves to their child’s tantrum, many bosses or leaders cave to the childish behavior of others. They do so to the detriment of organizations and communities. The last person who needs to be setting the direction for a group is the person not mature enough to act like an adult. Good leaders see childish behavior and compassionately reject the behavior. Sometimes they ignore it. Sometimes they have to confront it and call it what it is. But they never are manipulated by it. (See: I Know Who Is In Charge of Your Family)

What Childish Behavior Looks Like

One difficulty with childish behavior is that the person acting immaturely either doesn’t realize it or claims they aren’t doing it. This causes the leader to question themselves. Often, the childish person will make petty accusations which puts the leader on the defensive. The leader can be spending so much time refuting false claims that they don’t feel capable of calling out the immature actions of others.

But make no mistake, childish behavior is predictable.

A man acts like a child when:

  • He doesn’t get his way and throws a tantrum because of it.
  • He can’t argue an issue without questioning the character of others.
  • He attacks anyone who disagrees with him.
  • He blows an issue out of proportion and allows it to color every other issue.
  • He makes everything about him and what he wants.
  • He makes unsubstantiated accusations which can’t be verified.
  • He responds in a way that is not proportional with the issue.

The Challenge for a Leader

To someone who doesn’t lead, dealing with childish behavior sounds easy. An outsider says, “Call out the behavior and move on.” It sounds easy, but it’s not. In part, it is difficult because others always join in the behavior. While one person is acting like a child, others begin to mimic the behavior. In some situations, a good leader can feel like the only adult in the room. Leadership is often very isolating. Yet they must continue to lead. (See: 7 Leadership Lessons from Gus Malzahn)

They have to avoid the temptations of also acting like a child or caving to the childish behavior. They must choose the right direction, make the right decisions, and do what is best for all involved.

Make no mistake, every leader will face childish behavior far more regularly than they can imagine. It is one of the great challenges of leadership, because only a true leader can handle it properly.

2 Responses to When a Man Acts Like a Child
  1. ian Reply

    I realize this was back in the good old days of 2016. But it’s so relevant to leadership today that I tweeted out the bulleted items, just to point out how obvious this behavior is in the our government leaders.

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