I think your child might be President someday

My friend was distraught. A week before, her four year old daughter Jamie had  been kicked out of a very progressive school, with a reputation of excelling with difficult children, because she was refusing to follow the rules. They asked my friend to come get her child, and had her tuition check ready for her when she arrived.

I should admit now, I’m probably not the best person to comfort someone in these types situations. With that caveat, I tried to reassure and comfort my friend by saying “Angela, I know this is hard, and this will pass and may actually be a blessing. I think Jamie might be President someday.”

“What?” she said, looking confused. You see, Angela is a rules follower, and a very good one at that; she’s carved a very successful career for herself following the rules. Her daughter, however, is not this way. She questions and resists everything, which is why the school asked her to leave.

Rule-bending leaders

Over the years, I’ve been grateful to be able to spend time with some highly successful traditional and nontraditional leaders and I’ve noticed that most have one thing in common: They aren’t so keen on society’s rules.

This comes out in a variety of ways, for example, the extremely successful tech workers who regaled stories over beers of the crazy stunts they pulled on their high school and college’s computers. The hacker mind is indeed a unique one, they like to break things to see if they can make them better, which is useful in the tech field, but seen as a nuisance in a controlled system.

Or my extremely successful colleagues swapping tales of who they got in trouble for writing papers that were beyond the norm. One colleague wrote a paper for his American Government class questioning our system of government. For my non-American readers, while that’s completely permissible in the U.S. it’s not something most high school teachers would look favorably upon. I personally caught some heat for papers I wrote in junior high about the Salem Witch Trials and the atrocities of World War II. There was nothing wrong with these papers or me; in fact my intent was to highlight atrocities so we don’t repeat them, but they stood out as “not normal” because my classmates were writing papers on horses and cars.

Raise your hand if you got in trouble a lot for talking in class

“Raise your hand if you got in trouble a lot for talking in class,” asked a leader of The Chair Academy during one of our training sessions. Almost every hand went up. The Chair Academy is a leadership development program for future college and university Presidents and Chancellors, and everyone in the room was somewhere on that path. I found it fascinating, what was seen as insubordination during grade school was most likely them developing their networking skills that they use now to advance their career and the goals of the colleges and universities they work for.

I’m not saying grade school teachers aren’t right to enforce rules, their job is hard enough as it is. I’m not saying my friend was wrong to worry, most of our systems are set-up to reward those who follow rules. Finally, I’m not saying everyone who is a rules follower needs to change their ways, our society works well because we have both types of personalities working together for the greater good. And, there are some leadership roles where following the rules is a huge plus. What I am saying is, we should stop responding with “There’s something wrong with you,” as one of my friends’ moms used to tell her, and instead find a way to channel these kids to focus on their strengths.

Back to to Jamie

By the time I was done trying to explain all of this to my friend, we had arrived at Jamie’s new school and she went in to have a quick discussion with the teacher while I waited in the car. A few minutes later, the car door on my side opened and an angelic voice said, “Well hello Ms. Nicole. It’s very nice to see you. How are you today?” Four year old sweet and politically savvy beyond her years, Jamie, beamed at me. “I’m well, Jamie. How are you?” I said as she climbed in the back seat. Her mom proceeded to buckle her in and climbed in the driver’s seat.

“Yep,” I said to her mom, “President.”