Are you really the leader?


On Friday night, Jacob had a basketball game. We don’t always make the other kids watch him play basketball, but for this game we decided to take everyone. That included Brooke, my almost-four-year-old daughter.

For those of you who are experienced parents, you know it’s a little much to ask an almost-four-year-old to sit through an hour of anything including watching older brothers play basketball. Brooke is no exception. She’s a smart little girl. I love her. I mean that. But, just to be honest, sometimes her mother’s feisty personality comes through in most inopportune times.

We were about midway through the game when Brooke decided to begin pestering her older sister. Abby, our eight-year-old was sitting to my right. We had Brooke strategically positioned to my left between my feisty wife and me. Brooke, though, was done with basketball. She crawled under my legs and began teasing Abby. She made faces. She poked. She gave Abby the raspberries. Basically she was trying to annoy Abby in any way possible to divert Abby’s attention from the game to her.

Abby has great patience, but she’s also very human and will sometimes react the way “more mature” people react. She let Brooke do her thing for a few minutes, and then she basically kneed Brooke in the chest. I guess as the father I was supposed to reprimand Abby for that reaction, but my initial thought was, “You should have hit her a little harder.”

This, of course, wasn’t the response Brooke was expecting. Immediately she started yelling at her sister and letting the whole gymnasium including the fans from both basketball teams know that she had been wronged. This was one of those moments when I wish all it took was a black-and-white-striped shirt and a whistle to call a foul and turn the ball over to the other team. Unfortunately, they don’t give those shirts out to fathers.

Because I thought I would have reacted the same way Abby did, I didn’t punish Abby. Instead, I decided to remove her pest-of-a-little-sister from her personal space. I picked up the little agitating twirp and positioned her back between my wife and me. I can still do that because Brooke is almost-four-years-old and about as light as the basketball the boys were tossing around the court.

At that point, Brooke folded her arms across her chest. She looked me square in the eyes. And, in the sternest voice a little girl could muster, she expressed: “You’re not in charge of me.”

What do you do in a situation like that? I don’t know if this was the appropriate reaction, but I promptly snickered and then reminded my wife that Brooke was her daughter.

Let me just clarify for you that I am, indeed, Brooke’s father. I’m the leader…at least on paper. Just because I have positional leadership in our family, though, doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always the leader in my kids’ eyes.

The same thing is happening on a different scale in organizations everywhere. People are in positional leadership roles who aren’t necessarily the leaders of their organizations. The days are behind us for those situations when someone gets out of line and the head-honcho just takes their subordinate out to the woodshed for a reminder of who’s the boss. Leadership is no longer a title on a business card. (Do people still carry those things?)

Leadership looks a lot different these days.

  • It doesn’t necessarily reside in the corner office.
  • It’s something that’s earned rather than bestowed.
  • It rarely tells people what to do, but rather asks how can I serve?
  • It can’t be bought, because most people ultimately care very little about the money.
  • It’s focused more on the mission than the tasks.
  • It’s concerned more about fostering influence instead of wielding power.
  • It recognizes the next new idea will come from someone else.
  • It doesn’t necessarily require words.

I’m hopeful that one of these days Brooke will acknowledge and respect my leadership in her life. Needless to say, we both probably have some maturing to do before that comes to fruition. Until then, I may need to remind her from time to time who’s in charge. As long as she’s a little girl, I think that strategy is going to work. When she becomes a teenager, probably not so much.

While I perfect my parenting skills, this humorous episode from my role as “father knows best” begs this more important question:

Are you really the leader?

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About Author

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and

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