The Trench Coat

“Let’s go,” she said to her 3-year-old daughter.  The daughter smiled, and said “I want to wear your coat, Mommy.”  Helping the little girl into her coat, the mom just smiled and said “Okay”.  The young child’s face beamed as she wrapped her arms around herself in the too long sleeves of her mom’s too long trench coat.  As she started to walk, she tripped, caught herself before falling, turned around to look at her mom, and said “this is a little too big, Mommy.  Maybe when I’m older I can wear it?”  Helping her daughter out of the coat, mom just said, “Yes.  I believe you’ll grow big and strong and will be able to wear this one day soon.”

This conversation was overheard recently at a Home and Garden Show.  As I enjoyed watching the interaction between the young mother and her daughter, I recognized some great leadership traits exhibited by the mom that can be put into practice by those who lead others in business.

  1. Leaders: Listen to the Wants of Your Employees. Without judgment and without criticism of current skills or gaps, the mom patiently helped the daughter into the trench coat, knowing full well that the daughter was much too small to wear the much too large coat.  Help your employees step into projects that will challenge them.
  2. Leaders: Support Their Desires to develop new skills. The little girl was beaming when she was “allowed” to wear her mom’s coat.  Although she didn’t consider her size compared to the coat, she anxiously accepted the help to put it on, and wasn’t afraid to step forward.
  3. Leaders: Encourage their Forward Momentum. I was pleasantly surprised that the mom didn’t run to her daughter when her child tripped.  Mom just watched from a safe distance and waited to see what her daughter did. Giving the young girl space to “fail forward”, the child was able to catch herself, and determine next steps.
  4. Leaders: Encourage Your Team to Decide on Projects of Interest. Metaphorically speaking, the trench coat was the project in which the child was interested. Mom didn’t launch into reasons her daughter couldn’t wear the coat; instead, the mom encouraged her interest by helping her into the coat.
  5. Leaders: Recognize and Support Personal Limitations. After the little girl tripped, she realized that this project (e., the coat) was too big for her—right now.  She wasn’t capable of walking well in the coat and could have continued to trip and stumble, but she didn’t.  She admitted that the coat was too big and stepped out of it.  Without guilt, without feeling embarrassed, and with humility.  Adults can learn a lot from a this 3-year-old’s action!
  6. Leaders: Encourage Future Growth. At the same time the daughter realized the coat was too big, she was looking toward the future by recognizing that she could wear it when she was older.  For employees, experience, professional development, and continued growth should be encouraged by leaders.  Sometimes the employee needs to admit that they are not quite ready for a project, while other times the leader may need to help the employee see that they aren’t ready yet.  The mom encouraged the young girl; mom “believed” in her to “grow big and strong” and reflected a timeline of “one day soon”.  In both cases, and for both the leader and the employee, humility can play a huge role in setting the employee – and the next project – up for success.

The sweet 3-year-old doesn’t realize how blessed she is to have a mom like hers.  She doesn’t know how rarely anyone teaches a first-time mom how to be a mom. Apparently, motherhood is not the only vocation that lacks training. A recent study by shows that a whopping 58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training[1] before stepping into their first management job.  And these same leaders, still lacking training, are being promoted, time and time again. 

It doesn’t have to be that way in your organization.  Leaders, how are you helping your employees develop professionally?  Do you listen to what interests them?  In what ways do you support their desires?  Have you considered a strategic development path for which they can learn new skills and develop new capabilities? 

Encouraging future growth and communicating a pathway for employee development will significantly improve retention while supporting your organization’s succession plan.  Developing the desired leadership qualities and capabilities of your company will ensure sustainability. 

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to take action, look for ways to promote change, and, if we have to, build practices, policies, and procedures that inspire change. That’s our job. We’re responsible to inspire the best in people.

You don’t have to go it alone.  As the mom encouraged her daughter, I’d like to encourage you to take action, get out of your comfort zone, and invest just 30 minutes of your time to consider your own leadership skills. 

Let’s chat.


P.S. Do you enjoy reading? Be a Great Manager with These 12 Leadership Books.

P.P. S.  Book a Complimentary Strategy Session so we can get you moving in the right direction; click on my Complimentary Strategy Session calendar link here and let’s book a time together so you can get started today!

P.P.P. S. With over three decades of professional experience in corporate operations and executive human resources, I am a proven results-driven leader. My expertise includes strategy, change management, talent management and organizational development, employee relations, and executive and leadership coaching. I am a highly effective communicator and team leader with demonstrated ability to build long-term relationships across internal and external customer environments built with integrity, confidence, authenticity, and trust.


[1] 10 Shocking Workplace Stats You Need To Know ( 4/5/2022