Throughout my life, I’ve had many bosses, each with their own unique management style. Some had a hands-off approach, others took time to train and develop my skills, and one was very similar to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. But none of these bosses were as demanding as Audrey, the 4-year-old I watched.
While working with Audrey, I may have technically had the authority and ability to wield the powerful timeout punishment for poor behavior, but it was my job to anticipate her needs (not wants), keep her safe, and guide her to make better choices. That said, I was completely at the mercy of her moods and the power struggle that inherently comes when caring for a child.
She owned me, and we both knew it. When compared to my time in the professional world, my 4-year-old boss had some traits that were similar to my pervious corporate managers.
My boss has unrealistic deadlines. Audrey loves to eat mac ‘n cheese, but cooking it took way too long in her opinion. And she let you know it. Audrey felt that lunch should be ready as soon as we walked into the kitchen, and the 15 minutes it took to prepare lunch was always a dicey balancing act of trying to distract her with chores, challenges, or games so that she didn’t lose it and get herself stuck in timeout.
My boss has impossible expectations. I asked Audrey what she wanted for Christmas and she matter-of-factly said, “I want a flying unicorn. I will keep it in the backyard and feed it hay.” It’s good to know that she had a plan to take care of the unicorn, and fortunately she did get a small toy unicorn that could “fly” from Santa which she was very happy with.
My boss is a poor communicator. Sometimes, I gave Audrey full control of craft time. She loved it when we made “her crafts” and she got to be in charge while I desperately tried to steer her away from making too big of a mess. Moreover, she feels that her instructions, complete with made up words and demonstrations that change each time she shows you, are very clear. I’d almost feel bad when she’d be disappointed that my marker-stained, wadded up napkin didn’t look like her “Muntata” masterpiece. But at least she let me take hers home so that I could practice.
My boss throws tantrums. In the corporate world, bosses may scream, shout, and pound their fist when they don’t get their way. In the childcare world, tantrums happen when they don’t get what they want or simply when they are tired or hungry. Audrey threw the majority of her tantrums right before lunch or after a busy day. Fortunately, I can give my boss time out, and, after she took some time to cool off, she apologized.
My boss delegates the work she doesn’t like to me. Some days Audrey would want a job to do and enjoyed things like cleaning dishes or picking up after craft time, but on other days she’d abruptly abandon her activity (and mess). When I told her that it’s time to clean her room she’d say, “Ok. JD [the 1-year-old], you pick up the books. Michelle, you’re in charge of this section [motions to most of the room], and I’ll pick up over here [plays with dolls].”
Although Audrey is a preschooler, who’s just starting to learn interpersonal skills, she is more advanced in some areas than many grownups I know. Her deadlines are unrealistic, but as an adult she may have the innate ability to push boundaries and get things done. Likewise, she may not be able to have a flying unicorn today, but some of the greatest minds have sought to make the impossible possible.
She may make up words and instructions, but I am impressed with her confidence to take charge. Even when she has no idea what she’s doing, she knows how to sell it with a confidence that can’t be taught.
While she does throw a good tantrum, she also knows how to offer a sincere apology, a trait many adults can learn from. We’re all in the wrong at some point, and learning how to make amends isn’t a skill typically taught in management courses.
Finally, with her delegation skills, she’s a born leader and will do well working with others. When there’s a job at hand, she doesn’t shy away. Rather, she rallies her team and divides the work to make big tasks more manageable.
Audrey may have been one of the most demanding bosses I’ve ever had, but working with her was the most rewarding experience. Sure, she threw tantrums when I couldn’t meet her impossible expectations, was frustrated with me when I didn’t know her made-up buzzwords, and told me to clean up her messes, but watching her grow into a confident, strong woman is better than any job perk I’ve ever had.