This Memorial Day my 4-year-old son Ethan and I woke up early so I could teach him how to ride his Spiderman bike with training wheels. My wife and I had been trying for the past year to get him to ride it, but every time he said that pedaling was just too hard. It was usually less than 10 minutes before he was ready to give up and we both felt frustrated and defeated. This day, however, I knew would be the day. But furthermore, I learned some real life lessons on leadership during the riding lesson.
Leaders can't get what they want if the followers don't get what they want.
Let’s be honest, I was the one that wanted Ethan to learn how to ride his bike. I was going down the street the other day and saw a kid his age riding a bike without training wheels. That made me think, "Ethan can do this!" But when I told Ethan, he said he would rather watch Toy Story instead. I started by telling him how big of a boy he would be if he rode a bike. He sort of perked up but not enough to move. So since we have also been teaching him about money, I told him that if he learned how to ride his bike, I would give him a whole dollar (the most he has ever had in one sum). He jumped up, put on his shoes and ran out of the door. I'm not saying money is always the best motivator, but the point is to find the incentive which makes them want to achieve it for themselves, not you.
You won't get what you want by crying
We went outside, put his Spiderman helmet on and put him on the bike. After trying to push down the pedals, nothing had changed. He stopped trying and said "I can't do it, its too hard." He then started crying. I pulled out the dollar and asked him “do you still want the dollar?” He stopped crying and nodded his head. I said "you'll never get what you want by crying about it." He got back on the bike.
Why do I need to pedal?
Ethan tried the pedals again with frustration. By taking the time to watch him try, I realized he didn't understand the way the pedals worked and so he kept pressing the brake. So I turned the bike up-side-down to show him how the pedals moved the wheel. I let him use his hands to push the pedals in the right direction. He thought this was fun and my 4-year-old explained to me that the crank (he called it) helped the wheel move. I then turned the bike right-side-up and explained that he just had to do the same thing with his feet. This actually seemed to work. He understood why he was doing what he was doing and how it affected the whole the motion of the bike.
Forward Forward Forward. Never Never Stop.
Now that he was pedaling, we were finally starting to move. But every time we would begin to pick up some momentum, he would press back on the pedals causing the bike to screech to a stop. He would then have a hard time starting again. I started singing a little song. Forward Forward Forward. Never Never Stop. I said it over and over again until he was singing at the top of his lungs and we actually started going pretty fast.
Look where you're going
Because we had been focusing so much on pedaling, he had been looking at his feet while I steered. I started letting him steer and noticed he was so focused that he almost ran into the house, so I lifted his head up while continuing to sing the song.
Slow Progress is still Progress
I would love to end this story by telling you that he is now the first 4-year-old in the Tour de France. Not so, we pedaled forward for an hour and as I began to back away, he still had a lot of trouble doing it on his own. He was really getting tired, but had come 10 times further than he was when we came out here. I didn't give him the dollar yet because that is his ultimate goal, but I told him how great he did and that he was really close to getting his dollar. We decided to try some more later that day. I may even give him 50 cents because he is half way there. He his a long way from where I want him to be, but progress is progress and worth recognizing as long as it doesn't take the place of the overall goal.