The Situation:

I have a 12 year old son and it is my responsibility to teach him Math at home. Well, I was trying to teach him the concepts of algebra and Ratios and was having a tough time getting through to him and was getting frustrated at my inability to teach him the concepts and his unwillingness to learn (or at least that is what I thought).

Then I had a friend who came home to meet me and saw my predicament. He has had experience teaching Math to children before and offered to help me out.

The approach that he took opened my eyes to the real problem and taught me a few lessons in leadership as well.

I was trying to be the teacher (the know it all) and wanted to teach my son the concepts, assuming that my son needed to learn these concepts.

The way my friend approached the same situation assuming that my son knew or atleast understood the basics and could discover the concepts by himself. This was such a different approach to take. And to my surprise, though my son was a bit apprehensive at first, but was able to pick up the concepts well when he was working with my friend.

This was a revelation to me and totally changed how I teach my son now.

This also taught me some lessons in leadership:


There are a lot of times when as leaders, we approach the people we lead and try to be too prescriptive about what needs to be done and how. We sometimes assume that the people whom we lead are not smart enough to figure out things on their own and so we don’t trust them enough. We look down at them. We somehow think that we know more and that our approach is the best approach to anything that we want to get done.

It would serve us well to begin to trust the people we lead a lot more. Instead of looking down at them, it would be better off to look at the situation/problem/task with them. I now believe that all of us are enterprising and are capable people and want to do good work. Once you believe this and place your trust in the team, they naturally tend to rise to the occasion. At times, it takes a bit of time, but they do come along.

By this, I don’t mean that you simply trust them and abandon them, but that you trust them to rise to the occasion and be there to ensure that you can help or support them, if and when they need the support; to congratulate and celebrate with them, once they have succeeded.

Discover Vs Prescribe

It is much better to allow the people we lead discover the culture and the priorities based on our actions and come up with the best step forward based on the priorities that we lay out rather than prescribe specific actions that they need to take. This creates the opportunity for them to learn and helps us start to trust them more.

While, it is absolutely critical that, as leaders, we are very clear and vocal about our priorities and expectations, it is better to allow the people we lead to discover what it means for them and their day-to-day actions. Again, this doesn’t mean that we abandon them and expect them to perform according to our expectations but allow them the time and opportunity to discover this for themselves. It is better to prod and nudge them in the right direction, rather than command and push them.

This also has the added benefit – the team will not only believe in the priorities, they will live them. They will own them as they discovered it themselves and so are much more committed to them.


Being a leader is not easy, just like being a parent is not easy. However, this allows us to change the lives of the people we lead and that is the true nature of leadership.