Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
As the mother of two children, I’ve learned over the years the importance of manipulation. Now, don’t start frowning…if you’re a parent, you know you’ve done it. Call it reverse psychology or whatever you want, but we’ve all done it. And if you haven’t, then maybe you should. It makes life so much easier if you can learn how to get your kids to do those things in life that they’d rather not.
Take for example my teenage daughter. A couple of years ago we were preparing to leave for a week-long vacation early the next morning. As a rule, the last thing my husband does before we leave is to mow the lawn and so he had planned to do so when he returned from work that evening in anticipation of our early morning departure. Unfortuantely, the weather was forecasting rain in the late afternoon and he wasn’t sure he’d get home from work and have time to mow before the rain began. The solution, then, was obvious: Amber or I would have to mow the lawn or it would delay our 5:00 a.m. leave time the next morning by several hours.
I think at this point, it’s important to point out that I never mow the lawn. Never. That’s my husband’s job. In the almost 20 years of marriage, we’ve adopted specific roles and responsibilities and we can compartmentalize the “his and hers” very clearly: If it’s outside or involves yard work, car maintenance or manual labor, Troy does it. If it’s inside and requires cleaning or cooking, I handle it. And I like it that way. On the few occasions when we’ve crossed over into the other’s territory to “help out,” it’s been a nightmare; so, as a general rule, we simply don’t cross over. But this was an emergency of sorts. It had to be done and if I couldn’t get Amber to do it (which she frequently does for extra spending money from her dad), then I was going to have to do it.
“Amber,” I said, “Dad isn’t going to get home in time to mow the lawn before it rains. Would you please do it?”
“Did he ask for me specifically to do it?” she asked.
“No. He asked for one of us to do it.”
“Oh. Am I going to get paid for it?” she asked.
“Not this time,” I responded. “This time it needs to get done and the only reward in it is that we can leave on time tomorrow.”
“Oh. Fine. Whatever. I guess,” she replied.
As you can imagine, with no monetary incentive, her motivation to start moving was pretty much non-existent. After reminding her several times over the next few hours and still watching her poke around, I realized I was going to have to do something drastic. The clouds were moving in quickly and we’d have – at best – only a couple more hours before the storms set in. And so I decided I would need to take matters into my own hands.
Making a huge production of taking the lawn mower out of the garage and trying to start the motor, I set my plan in motion. After about ten minutes of trying to start the mower with no luck, Amber came out to join me.
“What’re you doing?” she asked. “I told you I’d mow the lawn.”
“I know, but you’re taking too much time to get started and the storms are going to be moving in soon.”
“Oh,” she said. “Have you ever mowed the lawn before?”
“Once I think,” I responded.
“Once?” she asked with surprise.
“Yeah. After that, Dad wouldn’t let me do it again.”
“Oh. Well..ummm…do you need some help starting it?” she asked.
“Nope. I got it,” I said. And then continued to try to start the motor.
After several more moments of watching, Amber began to get frustrated with my efforts. “Here,” she said, “you’re doing it wrong. Let me do it.” And within seconds she had the mower buzzing and I was ready to go.
“Thanks!” and off I went in the direction of the back yard.
Now, in case you don’t know, I’m not a stupid woman. I know my daughter and I know that – like me – she’s a control freak. I knew she was inside watching my every move because that’s just who she is. The idea that I was doing what she said she’d do – and, in her mind, not able to do it effectively or properly – was going to drive her nuts. And so, with that in mind, I made sure to play up my inadequacies.
Instead of moving the mower around the perimeter of the yard, I began in one corner of the yard and began to tackle a small 6′ x 6′ section. Moving the mower back and forth over the area like a vacuum cleaner, I’d finish one small block of grass and then move on to the next small block. I have no doubt I looked ridiculous.
When my actions didn’t bring Amber out right away, I decided to get a little bit creative and so I veered out of my little 6′ x 6′ blocks of grass, making a large turning-radius circle to come back at it from the opposite direction, leaving a large path of mowed grass in the midst of the long, unmowed grass. At the point I knew I’d won. Suddenly Amber came racing out of the house.
“I’m mowing! What does it look like I’m doing?”
“No you’re not! You’re making a mess! It’s not a vacuum cleaner! You can’t just move it randomly in any direction you want!” she yelled. “Here! Just give it to me before you make more of a mess!”
And so Amber finished the lawn and has had more than her share of laughs at my expense over the last couple of years by repeatedly telling the story about how Mom thought she could mow the lawn in the same fashion as one vacuums the living room floor. But what she doesn’t realize is that the joke is really on her. I got her out there to mow the lawn before the storms started, and we were on the road at 5:00 a.m. the next morning as planned. Mission accomplished!