Teenagers Teaching Us About Responsibility.. Yes, Really


Ever have one of those moments when you just stop and stare at your kids and time kind of freezes for you? You get to watch them and for some reason, you are fully aware of how they are growing and changing. You watch them learning and making their own choices and the stark reality that they don’t really belong to you, you just have the privilege of raising them for a little while, sinks in deeply and unmercifully. I had one of those moments this past weekend as I was watching my 15 year old wash and clean her new car. Ok let’s be clear, her “new” car is older than she is and was given to her by her Grandmother who had owned it since 1998.

The point was, she was out in the driveway with a toothbrush, scrubbing every inch of the interior. I watched her spend probably 30 minutes on the steering wheel alone. She is a pretty good kid and generally does her other chores when we ask her but she has never attacked doing the dishes, or helping to clean our cars, with the same level of commitment. Pride of ownership changes the level of engagement.

The same thing happens in the workplace every day. When people feel connected, involved and like they are contributing to something they care about, they approach everything differently. Compare that to a group of people who show up to do what they are told. That difference in engagement and commitment is the difference between a growing, thriving, innovating business and one that just gets by, or even declines. We seem to think that employees should engage for the paycheck, but they don’t, they may show up for the paycheck, at least most of the time, but they engage for the satisfaction and the intrinsic feeling of contributing to something that matters to them. My 15 year old would not have cleaned my car with the same level of engagement no matter how much I had paid her.

Leading in a way that causes that kind of commitment from your team means that you do three things very well:


People don’t get all that excited unless they can connect what they are doing to something that lasts beyond the tasks themselves. They need to know that somehow they are contributing to something bigger and more important than the act of doing the job. Let people hear your thoughts about the opportunities ahead, the ways we can grow and accomplish more as a team and a business and the benefit that we can bring to clients or customers. My daughter got excited about driving her immaculately clean car, not the act of scrubbing the dirt off, even though that became pretty fulfilling to her after she got started and could see the impact she was making.


People take a much bigger interest in things they get to have some stake in.  Whatever the vision or direction of the business, let everyone help shape how we get there and how their own personal contribution helps us.  Let people decide how their strengths fit the business and how they use them to help us become more successful. There may be times we can’t let everyone play only to their strengths of course, but we often miss many opportunities to make that happen when we can.


I told my daughter about a dozen times over the course of the hours that she spent on that car how proud I was of her for taking care of her car. There are many times I forget to say that, but this time I had the awareness to make sure she knew how much I appreciated the way she was growing up as a responsible person and we talked about how good it feels when you do a job well and people notice. Even the neighbors came over and marveled at her effort. At times, both her mom and I pitched in and helped her with tasks that would go faster with two people or where she just needed some help. She owned the responsibility but we supported her in the effort. People engage differently when they are coached, supported and feel like they are doing something other people notice and appreciate.

I, like many aspiring leaders, don’t always get these things right and there are more times than not when I allow the pace and busyness of the day to keep me from focusing on the things that will help my team engage fully and be happier with what they accomplish. Sometimes I manage to remember that if I’m not doing those things, I may be working hard, but I’m not leading. Luckily, my kids often remind me what good leadership is all about.

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