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Clean and Free to Lead

Darius’ room is clean!!!  Yeah!! Great news.  Cue up the band.  OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me regroup.  You may be wondering what my 13 year old son’s clean room has to do with leadership.  Ahhh, well I’m glad you asked.

This has been a struggle for a “minute” and by minute I mean a long time.  At times I’ve felt more like a prison guard or drill instructor than a dad.  We’ve explored the continuum of disciplinary alternatives and nothing seemed to stick – the change was never sustainable.  Many friends and others told me to let it go, he’s 13, it is what it is.  And I’ll admit for a time I did let it go – just close the door.  As long as nothing crawls out (including odors)  and he’s still able to get out unscathed I let it go.  After all there are worst issues we could be dealing with, right?

Well we both realized this “clean room thing” was a point of stress in our relationship.  I set an expectation, he wasn’t meeting it, I wasn’t enforcing it and we weren’t syncing like we want to because the big elephant in the room (no pun intended but there could have been one in there) was hanging over our heads.  So our daily and nightly routine became a series of my demands for him to clean his room, his half attempts at cleaning the room, my checking the room, his 2nd half attempt at cleaning the room, my yelling, his “sad face”, and on and on and on.

What a cycle, we had to break it.

One day, Darius and I had a conversation about sports.   He wanted to try out for the football team, so we began discussing football and the discipline and commitment required to be a great player.  We talked about practice and preparation and the blood and sweat great players shed when no one’s watching to make them better on game day.  We talked about the dedication and consistency of great players who did what others wouldn’t, who showed up when others didn’t, who kept going when others quit.  We talked about how great players accept responsibility for themselves and recognize they’re accountable to their team. Darius was getting “geeked” (that’s what the kids say) and I was getting “hyped” (that’s what old school says).  He was ready to do it.  I was ready to do it.  What a moment.  Wait a minute — then it hit me, we needed to have a conversation like this around cleaning the room.

We began to transition from football to room cleaning, but we kept talking about the same principles; discipline, commitment, practice, preparation, consistency, dedication, responsibility etc….  And then there was this epiphany – it clicked, I saw it in his eyes.  He realized the room was about his character, his responsibility, his image.  Darius was TeachABLE.

Darius stayed up that night and cleaned his room.  The best it’s ever looked.  Now here’s the great part – Darius walks in my room a couple of days later and says, “Dad, I feel free. I feel good, because you can’t say anything to me about my room being clean – it’s clean.  I handled my business. This is nice.”

What a revelation.  Darius is free because he handled his business.  The distraction of the dirty room was gone.  He was able to focus on more important things. I could see the confidence in his eyes.  He did what he was ABLE to do and he’s reaping the rewards.

What about you? What about me?  What business do we need to handle? What do we need to clean?  It may not be our room, but it may be our heart, it may be our task list, it may be our mind, it may be our reputation,  it may be our attitude, it may be our speech.   If being clean can make a 13 y/o feel free, imagine what it can do for you and me.  Let’s clean up our mess and free ourselves to lead.


  1. Brian Thomas July 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm #


    First of all GREAT JOB PARENTING! I am very impressed – as a father of 4 – I wish I had done a better job instilling in my boys this art! I can so relate to this CLEAN ROOM feeling. When I lead completely – I feel the very same way and when I lead half-way – I feel cluttered – unorganized – even dirty – Thanks for this excellent example and nudge to LEAD ALL THE WAY! I want to lead completely!

    Bless you…

    • Charles July 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      Thanks Brian. Sometimes it’s refreshing to know we’re not the only ones “going thru” something. Let’s lead completely.

  2. Sherry Larson July 30, 2013 at 5:37 pm #


    Thank you for sharing! Lots of lessons in that story, but those that stood out most for me was to not give up and try new approaches for teaching, and tackling and getting beyond the clutter so that we can lead and succeed! Love that you share your stories with us, it is just as helpful in our personal lives as our professional and we all know that parenting is a BIG job!!


    • Charles July 30, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      Good point Sherry. I had to “humble” myself and try a different approach. Thanks for sharing your feedback. I really appreciate it.

  3. Joy Campbell July 30, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    This reminds me of the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. We are all guilty but unlike you some of us have difficulty finding a new approach. This is an excellent example of meeting someone where they are. Teenagers typically don’t care about a clean room. However, when you changed your strategy and brought something of importance to him into the conversation, he finally heard what you were saying. GREAT job, Charles!

  4. Brenda Dooley July 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    A sense of freedom is definitely the feeling I have when I’m handling my business. When you have one of those tasks that needs to be addressed, but isn’t easily done, there’s nothing that can drag you down more than letting it linger. Sometimes you have to remind yourself how it’s going to feel “on the other side” to help you move through it.

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