Below is a real story of everyday leadership. Its not glamorous. Its full of mistakes. But yet, it shows the results of being persistent and patient.
Hazel, the spunky three year old, decided that she no longer liked to eat eggs, even though she still wanted to raise chickens. One day she just up and decided “I don’t like them.”
This presented a problem for mom and dad as they wanted their child to eat more and grow strong, while using a plentiful resource.
One day, dad decided that this was going to be last time that Hazel avoided eating her eggs.
So Dad Took a Stand
“You’re not going to leave this breakfast table until you have eaten at least one spoonful of your eggs.”
Hazel, often the more emoting kind of child, began crying.
And thus began an hour long negotiations on eating eggs.
Lecturing a child almost never works to motivate. I say almost, because it appears that sometimes they give in and do what you want them mostly to stop hearing you lecture.
In this case mom and dad, mostly dad tried to lecture.
“This is why we call you skinny mini. You are skipping out on eating your eggs. If you eat your eggs you will be stronger.”
Hazel at this point decided to again cry and put her heard on the table, determined not to eat one spoonful of eggs.
It Turns Out Lecturing Doesn’t Work
Mom decided she was going to try and motivate.
“If you eat that spoonful of eggs, you can have this bacon.”
For just a moment, this looked like it might work. Hazel lifted her head said “I like bacon” and looked on to being given the bacon.
“You can have the bacon after eating the eggs.”
Nope. That didn’t work. Hazel returned to pouting and crying. So much so that Hazel worked herself up into gagging her food from earlier. Not a pretty picture.
Motivation Gets Momentum But its Not Always Enough
As dad sat and watched mom something began brewing inside. He decided that this whole situation was more than he could handle.
“OK, this is ridiculous. Eat your eggs, now. Its one spoonful, you need to grow up. When you get older you”ll have to deal with significantly more difficult situations than this. You used to eat eggs, so cut the game and do it.”
Again with the intense lecturing, something Hazel did not want to hear. So mom piped back in with a sweet voice.
“If you eat your eggs, you’ll be done. Can’t you eat just one little spoonful? Remember green eggs and ham? He didn’t want to eat his eggs too, and eventually he decided he’d try them and liked them!”
Hazel seemed to respond positively to the familiar story she knew well. But she didn’t take one step towards eating those eggs.
Ever hear of Good Cop – Bad Cop? It doesn’t work at the breakfast table.
You see, one of Hazel’s biggest three year old behaviors is resistance of control. If she wants to go where you’re going, then she’ll take it. If she, in that moment, has no desire for it, she is very resistant to giving in. In this moment, it was clear, she just does not want eggs.
“Go get me Green Eggs and Ham.” Dad said to mom.
Mom returned promptly with the Dr. Seuss book.
“Do you want me to read you Green Eggs and Ham?” Dad asked to Hazel.
She excitedly nodded yes and scooted in for a read.
Dad read through the book enthusiastically to build connection with his daughter, so she might “listen to reason” in the next round of negotiations.
Building connection brings people close enough to listen.
Hazel beamed with joy after being read the book “Green Eggs and Ham.” Dad decided to try something different rather than to get the child to eat that spoonful of eggs.
“Do you want scrambled eggs with Ketchup?”
It would appear that Hazel would consider eating eggs after all, now that it wasn’t the dull eggs that had been sitting on her plate for 40 minutes.
“Will you eat them if I make them?” Dad started building commitment to eat the eggs.
“Yes I will!” Hazel replied.
Commitment is enough to get people moving.
Dad was influenced. He believed that Hazel would eat the eggs so long as he made them scrambled, and they had ketchup on it.
To build further commitment dad added.
“Hey go get the ketchup.”
“Ok!!!!” Hazel yelled out as she excitedly hopped up and went to the fridge.
The eggs were cooked. Hazel topped them with ketchup. Having felt that everything was in order dad walked away. After returning he inspected the plate to see if all the eggs had been eaten, or just maybe half. One look at the spoon told all.
Don’t walk away until you’ve seen actual progress. And then await a little longer.
“Hey! There are no eggs eaten here. You said that you would eat your eggs with ketchup. Here, eat at least this.”
Dad split the eggs into two sides of the plate.
Hazel agreed and started eating them. Dad, again, felt that everything was in the bag so he walked away. Upon returning, and inspecting yet another issue had come up.
Instead of eating them, she was putting them in her mouth, chewing them up, (possibly to eat just the ketchup) and spitting them out back on the plate.
“Hey!!! That’s not right, you need to actually eat them. Here eat these.” Dad put egg on the spoon and handed it to Hazel.
“Now don’t go spitting these out. Actually eat them.” Dad watched and was content with what he saw.
“Ok only a few more spoonfuls.”
Hazel complied and ate a few more.
Persistence wins because “what works” is rarely just one thing, especially when influencing a tough character.
Hazel did eat that bacon…