A Final Thought on Leading for Skill and Will: It’s a Long Term Game, Not a Short One

I’m on a plane with my third-grade son, traveling to Washington D.C. He is taking a math test beside me.  We are headed up to our nation’s capital for a work conference I have, and he and my dad are along for the ride. 

He’s coming to actually see some of the things he’s been learning in school about government and democracy.  With the trip being counted as a “field trip” for him instead of an absence, the schoolwork, including tests he’s missing, come with us. He is to complete them and return them for grading the Monday after we arrive home.

He finishes and says, “Don’t check it, mom, that is Mrs. Armstrong’s (his teacher) job.”

It’s like he knows I have the temptation to “check it” and justify “helping” him, which he knows is straight-up cheating.  I resist the urge to check it and put it away. Later I do check it, though.  He’s missed one.  And I again resist the urge to give it back to him and tell him, not the answer, but “Hey, why don’t you look at this one again?”  Still straight up cheating, but I’d be dishonest if I acted like the temptation to fix his mistakes and or help him make a perfect score isn’t there.

And this temptation is also present in any leadership situation.

The one he missed is an easy one, one that he just didn’t take his time on.  And knowing his biggest struggle in math is not getting the right answer, but taking his time to get the right answer, I silently think about ways to help him take his time without fixing his test so that he gets a 100 next time instead of a 98.

But, I “allow” him to miss one and in the long run, he will be better for it. The perfect score isn’t nearly as important as him learning through doing things on his own and learning the consequences of not taking his time. And of course, most importantly, the hard lessons won in doing things with honesty and integrity learned through a leader modeling that behavior for him. Or wait, he actually modeled this for me first. 

As we wrap up our posts on leading through skill and will, I think it warrants a pause in considering leading in the moment for short term gain versus leading for long term outcomes and results. Leading is a marathon, not a sprint.

We practice leading through skill not to satisfy our own short-term needs, nor the short-term needs and desires of those we lead. We practice it because it is a process that fosters learning.  Learning that isn’t fleeting, but learning that is lasting and transferable across domains and that builds character.

So the next time you have to diagnose someone’s skill and will and then use that knowledge to lead them, see yourself as their coach and teacher, not their boss (or parent).  

Hopefully, the learning will come in the form of not just better skill acquisition and motivation but also with growth that lasts, growth that fosters transferable skills and integrity.


How do you foster long-term learning and growth with those you lead? 

Mary Ila Ward

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