Laugh at No

Laughing in the Face of “No”

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

Kids can teach us a lot of things. I know mine have — and not just after they became adults. They taught me about being totally open, no preconceived notions; I wish they were close by to keep reminding me of that lesson. They taught me about tough-love, being consistent and how loving someone as much as we loved them can sometimes hurt, deeply. And they taught me joy beyond words.

A colleague, Marty Bozarth, shared with me a lesson his young daughter taught him recently while at a Halloween party, and he gave me permission to share the story. Here it is as he shared it with me, with a few minor clarifications for you:

We went to a Halloween party down the street, and only knew a few of the neighbors there. They have a whole pumpkin carving thing going for the kids, and after [our children] Emmi and Quinn each crank out a completely typical pumpkin face, they proudly place them on the ledge with the others.

Emmi decides at this point that she is going to win the pumpkin carving contest. She believes it completely. I think she actually knew it. So first, she sidles up to the Dad who is hosting the party. We only know him a little bit. Emmi announces that her pumpkin is done, and wants to know when the judging starts. The Dad bends down and explains that there isn’t a contest, and that all the pumpkins look really great, and compliments her on a nice job. OK, so at this point, there are a couple of obstacles standing between her and her dream for the evening: first, the other pumpkins have primarily been carved by high school and older kids, and are quite good, and second, there never was any contest. Any rational person would have run off to play hide and go seek with the other kids.

Instead, Emmi looks up at the Dad and says, “Where’s the lady with the black shirt and the big earrings?” As Emmi has discerned, this is the Wife of the house. Emmi walks up to the Wife, and again announces that her pumpkin is done, and wants to know when the judging starts. I don’t know exactly what happened next, and I should find out. What I do know is that about 20 minutes later, Emmi comes running over, breathless, and tells us that she won first place in the pumpkin carving contest, along with a couple of her young friends. Emmi won first place for most original, one friend won first place for scariest, and another friend won first place for most creative.

An hour or so later, we are walking home from the party, and Emmi has this giant witches head, inside a glass globe, under her arm. She tells us that this is the prize for first place and she gets to keep it for the next year! She couldn’t be prouder of what she achieved. We couldn’t be prouder of the little girl in our family who laughs in the face of “no.”

Persistence and resilience are words that often show up on lists of “leadership attributes.” I think we can learn more about those attributes from Emmi — Laugh at “No” and win the contest. If there isn’t a contest, make one. If the rules of the game are too restrictive, change the game. Go over, around or through the obstacles put up by those who accept “no” as final. Thanks Emmi.

Born on Third Base
Book Review: Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer