I was just talking to a good friend and his 9th grade son, and I asked the youngster: “Who’s the leader in your house — your mom or your dad?” His mom who’s been largely stay-at-home is now re-entering the work force. His dad is the breadwinner, the bigger of the two, the main driver of the car, and the more outspoken figure. I am certain that his parents have an egalitarian and collaborative marriage and parenting style.
I suppose most readers will have “Blink-like”* reactions to this narrative set-up. Perhaps you have a presumption about the answer to the question I addressed to the boy — politically correct or not; or you might have a skeptical take on me, my question, or what you think my friend or his son would say. And if you were my wife, you’d be urging me to just get to the point: What did the boy answer?
Okay, so the 14 year old hardly hesitated, and with what seemed to me a knowing smile, simply pointed at his dad and said, “He is.”
If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know I tricked the young man. For I just don’t believe in THE leader. Indeed I hand out water bottles to my students with the punny slogan “kill the liter.” My friend and his wife BOTH lead. I find it unnecessary and grossly misleading to say one is “the” leader.
I also think it’s vital to say (on the day after Mother’s Day) that the forced construct of the leader seems to be shot through with male privilege, male ego, and male bias. I DO NOT MEAN THIS to judge any individual man. The youngster in my story is not a “sexist pig.” He’s just a kid, steeped in conventional “wisdom” about “the” leader, soaked in ancient evolutionary and social “coding” that size, strength, voice, etc., are markers of something vital. In a knowledge economy (which some are arguing is becoming a “purpose” economy), the presumption in favor of male leaders is utterly useless.
So, thanks to moms! In an increasingly (but incompletely) gender-role-free-world, they lead in their own unique ways. Yet so many of them offer the best models of servant leadership – from physically bearing us, birthing us and feeding us, to often delaying their careers as my friend’s wife did, to encouraging our hearts, bearing with us when we fall short, and enduring and enduring.
I’m so grateful to my mom who was and remains in her 80s a listening leader, a model of dependability, and a to this day a servant leader, pointing the way for her 7 children and 16 grand kids to
Lead with their best self.
*I’m referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, in which he recites much of the fascinating psycho-social research on how we make judgments at a speed as fast as the blink of an eye.