Stewardship Management and my Four-Year-Old’s Toys

My office started a book club and the first book selected was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have to admit, I was not excited about this particular choice. It’s tried and true. It’s suggested by a lot of, well, effective people. Problem is I tried to read this in high school (thanks for the suggestion, dad) but it was a disaster. I wasn’t in the right mental place to accept the suggestions and the narrative turned me off. Still does, to a degree, but I’ve allowed my self some social pressure that my dad simply wasn’t effective in providing — so here I am.

Well, I’m listening, not reading. But that counts …

So this morning on my drive in I hear the following story that really hits home. Why? My daughter is 4 (and a half, she regularly ensures we know). We try very hard not to “discipline” her. We offer consequences instead. We try to ensure there are positive and negative consequences. We try not to lose our temper, but on that one I’m really awful; a work in progress we’ll call it.

And she’s wonderful. She tries really hard to help us understand her desires, even if I don’t like the tone. She tries really hard to explain why she doesn’t WANT to do something. See my comment above on my patience.

Then I heard this story — and it hit me. I really like this concept of Stewardship Management, and I’m going to try it with her. This weekend her playroom becomes her responsibility. Well, her “play area” of the living room. She’s going to own it. I mean, hell, she already does, so what’s the worst that can happen?

Excerpt from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, Habit 3: Put First Things first

“My seven-year-old son volunteered to take care of the yard. Before I actually gave him the job, I began a thorough training process. I wanted him to have a clear picture in his mind of what a well cared for yard was like, so I took him to our neighbor’s.

“Look, Son,” I said. “See how our neighbor’s yard is green and clean? That’s what we’re after: green and clean. Now come look at our yard. See the mixed colors? That’s not it; that’s not green. Green and clean is what we want. Now how you get green is up to you. You’re free to do it any way you want, except paint it. But I’ll tell you how I’d do it if it were up to me.”

“How would you do it, Dad?”

“I’d turn on the sprinklers. But you may want to use buckets or a hose. It makes no difference to me. All we care about is that the color is green. Ok?”


“Now let’s talk about ‘clean’, Son. Clean means no messes around-no paper, strings, bones, sticks, or anything that messes up the place. I’ll tell you what let’s do. Let’s just clean up half the yard right now and look at the difference.”

So we got our two paper sacks and picked up one side of the yard. “Now look at this side. Look at the other side. See the difference? That’s called clean.”

Editors note: at this point I did respond out-loud with the following retort “that’s also called patronizing” – to which I reminded myself he WAS talking to a 7-year-old so maybe it wasn’t. But it is. Continuing … because this isn’t what really did it for me in the story …

“Wait!” he called. “I see some paper behind that bush!”

You go boy! You tell that patronizing father his eyes suck!

“Oh, good! I didn’t notice that newspaper back there. You have good eyes, Son.

“Now before you decide whether or not you’re going to take the job, let me tell you a few more things. Because when you take the job, I don’t do it anymore. It’s your job. It’s called a stewardship. Stewardship means ‘a job with a trust.’ I trust you to do the job, to get it done. Now who’s going to be your boss?”

“You, Dad?”

“No, not me. You’re the boss. You boss yourself. How do you like Mom and Dad nagging you all the time?”

“I don’t.”

Thanks, Captain Obvious. Yeah, I literally rolled my eyes here – at both of the, but especially at Stephen Covey’s selectively clear memory of how perfect this conversation went. Then again, I did start to pay more attention here.

“We don’t like doing it either. It sometimes causes a bad feeling doesn’t it? So you boss yourself. Now, guess who your helper is.”


“I am,” I said. “You boss me.”

Woah, there, Pancho. Back up. I mean, I like the “helper” part but keep the “boss” to yourself …

“I do?”

“That’s right. But my time to help is limited. Sometimes I’m away. But when I’m here, you tell me how I can help. I’ll do anything you want me to do.”


Huh. Actually, that’s not … so this is where I started buying in. I could see it. I could see my daughter in this role, LOVING being in charge, and LOVING being able to control not just mommy or daddy for a little bit, but controlling the outcome of something.

“Now guess who judges you.”


“You judge yourself.”

“I do?”

“That’s right. Twice a week the two of us will walk around the yard, and you can show me how it’s coming. How are you going to judge?”

“Green and clean.”


I trained him with those two words for two weeks before I felt he was ready to take the job. Finally the big day came.

“Is it a deal, Son?”

“It’s a deal.”

“What’s the job?”

“Green and clean.”

“What’s green?”

He looked at our yard …

I laughed and thought “Not this horse ####…”

… which was beginning to look better. Then he pointed next door. “That’s the color of his yard.”

“What’s clean?”

“No messes.”

“Who’s the boss?”

“I am.”

“Who’s your helper?”

“You are, when you have time.”

“Who’s the judge?”

“I am. We’ll walk around two times a week and I can show you how it’s coming.”

“And what will we look for?”

“Green and clean.”

At that time I didn’t mention an allowance. But I wouldn’t hesitate to attach an allowance to such a stewardship.

Two weeks and two words. I thought he was ready.

Wait – you expect a seven-year-old to do this on trust, love, and a sense of accomplishment? I will … I … no chance.

It was Saturday. And he did nothing. Sunday … nothing. Monday … nothing. As I pulled out of the driveway on my way to work on Tuesday, I looked at the yellow, cluttered  yard and the hot July sun on its way up. “Surely he’ll do it today,” I thought. I could rationalize Saturday because that was the day we made the agreement. I could rationalize Sunday; Sunday was for other things. But Monday I couldn’t rationalize. And now it as Tuesday. Certainly he’d do it today. It was summertime. What else did he have to do?”

All day I could hardly wait to return home to see what happened. As I rounded the corner, I was met with the same picture I left that morning. And there was my son at the park across the street playing.


This was not acceptable. I was upset and disillusioned by his performance after two weeks of training and all those commitments. We had a lot of effort, pride, and money invested in the yard and I could see it going down the drain. Besides, my neighbor’s yard was manicured and beautiful, and the situation was beginning to get embarrassing.

I was ready to go back to the gofer delegation. Son, you get over here and pic up this garbage right now or else! I knew I could get the golden egg that way. But what about the goose? What would happen to his internal commitment?

So I faked a smile and yelled across the street, “Hi, Son. How’s it going?”

“Fine!” he returned”

I chortled

“How’s the yard coming?” I knew the minute I said it I had broken our agreement. That’s not the way we had set up an accounting. That’s not what we had agreed.

So he felt justified in breaking it, too. “Fine, Dad.”

I bit my tongue and waited until after dinner. Then I said, “Son, Imma kick your ass…

Wait, no, that’s me.

“Son, let’s do as we agreed. Let’s walk around the yard together and you can show me how it’s going in your stewardship.”

Image result for jackie chan meme

Preach it, Jackie Chan. I can’t imagine keeping my cool here. There’s no way he did. Stephen R. Covey has either the coolest temper or a REALLY selective memory. But ok, I’ll play along. Tell me how this storybook story ended …

As we started out the door, his chin began to quiver. Tears welled up in his eyes and, by the time we got out of the middle of the yard he was whimpering.

Oh, my, god. This is my daughter. Come on, this has to be every kid ever, isn’t it. And this kid is two and a half years older than Mache. I’m done. Here’s my chips, I’m out.

“It’s so hard, Dad!”

What’s so hard? I thought to myself. You haven’t done a single thing! But I knew what was hard-self-management, self-supervision.

GASP! He’s talking about ME. TODAY! Hell, right now I should be getting ready for a presentation, not writing a blog post. Ugh, my sales guy is going to see this and roll me later. My boss … but I digress.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Would you, Dad?” he sniffed.

“What was our agreement?”

“You said you’d help me if you had time.”

“I have time.”

And to save the effort of having to read and retype the entire story — it worked. It worked! In this magical world where Stephen R. Covey has no temper, his son learned! Not that he could take advantage of Dad, but that he could rely on his promises. That he could self-manage. That he could accomplish things, and when they were hard he would get help. Supposedly, Son R. Covey (I can only imagine they have the same middle name right now) not only did it, but he did it all summer. He asked help only “two or three more times that entire summer” and “he took care of that yard. He kept it greener and cleaner than it had ever been under my stewardship.”

Well — there it is — I know myself pretty well, and I know what works for me. And I’ve seen what works for Mache.

I don’t know if she’s capable at four-and-a-half of making this work. But I’m capable at thirty-six of trying.

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