Is leadership part of your DNA? by Casudi
Is leadership part of your DNA?
I had a very unusual childhood, so much so that Anna Freud yes, the real one said to my mother that I would not grow up to be normal, in fact chances were I would be quite damaged!
My parents bought a large country house outside London, and created a home for 30 unhappy children. In those days the kids were called “maladjusted”; later changed into “emotionally disturbed”, and today they are called “special needs”. In fact my parents founded the first residential school in the UK for “special needs” kids. And I was right in the middle of it, growing up. Anna Freud was just one of the many prestigious visitors.
From a very early age, I found myself always part of a group of 5 to 10 or more kids of varying ages, all who needed to be entertained and otherwise occupied. We didn’t have TV in the early days (and later, only on weekend evenings), and so even then it just seemed natural to me to take things in hand.
While the challenges I had then were much the same as I might have today, a big difference is I had no choice in the players. However, I was able to design and choose the games and so that is exactly what I did. I designed the games around the (available) participants!
I created games. I invented games……really more like ‘movie scripts’ for instant enactment. Much has receded into cloudy memories, however I do remember little Roy (name changed), who was diagnosed with severe schizophrenia and Psychosis, (in addition, his father we were told, had suffered severely in a concentration camp). Little Roy was obsessed with trains about to crash into him (and us); he spoke of nothing else for hours and hours; so instead of diverting him from this, I built his ‘train lookout’ function into every game. He was well acknowledged at the end of the day for not letting trains crash into us! Somewhere along the line, Roy’s interest (obsession) changed and so did his part in the games. His new part; the wizard in charge of the spells!
I recall that there were three main themes to the games I designed:
The ‘survival theme’ where the group created a shelter, yes we made lean-to’s from branches, twigs and moss & ferns, and saved food or sweets to bring to the lean-to larder (pantry in US-speak).
The second theme related to an alternative ‘fantasy universe’ of fairies, witches and magicians, where we lit fires in big old drums (we all learned to respect fire!); and the enactment of these games had lots of ‘sturm und drang’, and capture and rescue.
The final theme of games related to families where the kids with unhappy home environments could create what they longed for within my ‘family game’ scenario.
Often our games went on for weeks, with each kid playing their part (assigned or chosen), always in the play times after school lessons and during weekends. Remember, we didn’t have TV, and few toys, so it was all up to our own imaginations, or in most cases mine!
Later, when I was older, I asked my mother how come the entertainment of so many kids was left to me and not to the staff? She said “you were so much better at keeping the group together, and doing things the kids loved to do, that the staff only had make sure we were not “killing” ourselves!” She added that I had been a great help in those days when they had limited help; however she was quick to add that today one would need at least three staff to do what I did then! J
No one taught me how to corral a group of unruly kids with ADHD and more; I was strictly left to my own devices and resources, so do you think that my leadership expertise displayed at a very early age was in my DNA?
This is some of what I learned at a very early age:
(1) Look at the players, and design their parts in the games to fit, assessing what they can do well and were interested in doing (often not the same!)
(2) Add a challenge to the game to keep everyone’s interest, but not too much challenge so they feel defeated and give up!
(3) Build a win into each game for each player; a win that involves overcoming a very real fear, or successfully attaining a simple goal
(4) Everyone should do and feel better at the end of a game. Making a positive difference was important to me then, as well as now!
So, maybe yes in my DNA, as obviously I solved the challenge presented to me at a very early age, but having leadership in my DNA does not mean that I haven’t had to continually build on this foundation! I have always been extremely interested in how to build better teams; increase my ability to inspire the very best in the players; and make the best decisions, each of which speeds up success. And success means solving a problem and making a difference!
When my mother asked me, as part of the preface to a book she was writing, and asked it related to the Anna Freud conversation so many years ago, “did I think I had been damaged by growing up in a community with 30 ‘difficult’ children” ~ my response was “no damage; in fact the experience greatly helped me to deal with difficult adults”!
What experience in your childhood has given you a jump-start on leadership?
CASUDI Designing Success.
This post is inspired by Lisa Petrilli; though she will not know how or why!
BTW: Little Roy went on to study at Oxford and a career in chemistry or forestry or both!
My mother’s book “The House in The Sun” is out of print, but I still have a few copies.
Image in post by photographer Edith Tudor Hart
About Casudi Di Diego(CASUDI) is a multi-faceted entrepreneur with parallel careers. In one she focuses on Architectural Design Solutions, and in the other (where most of you know her) she helps start ups & early-stage companies, building effective start-up teams, creating workable business models, and bringing new technologies to market. You can reach Caroline on Twitter @CASUDI as well as her Designing Success blog.