‘Maybe they just wanted to stay beans’ – A six-year-old boy’s observations on leadership

In mid-April, Troy, my 6 years old son asked me to buy him a package of bean seeds. I purchased the package thinking that it was an easy task to do that morning. When we arrived home Troy asked for help planting the beans. To me, the task was simple; plant the beans and wait for them to grow.

However, there is nothing simple when it comes to Troy’s imagination. Troy decided to take this opportunity to devise a plan to grow the “happiest” and “greenest” green bean plants.

He captured my attention and I found myself intrigued by his articulation and logic of what to do before planting the bean seeds. I explained to Troy the simple process of soil, water, and sunlight (learned that in third grade). Troy replied by saying; “but wait Daddy.”

Please know that nothing simple will come after Troy says “but wait…

Troy gathered his beans and examined each one to determine if there was anything out of the ordinary. At that moment I realized that a simple task transformed into a complex project.

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(Photo courtesy Officer Jonathan Bransfield with the City of Cameron Missouri Police Department)

Troy grabbed the beans and stated they were cold. As a result, he needed to warm them up in his hands. He then looked at the soil to ensure it was dark enough (rich), and contain enough “white tiny balls” which after googling (is that a word?) it, I found out these are called perlite, and are beneficial to the growth of plants.

He asked Alexa how deep the seed should be planted, how much water the beans needed and how many hours of sunlight the beans needed to sprout.

Troy planted the beans in four different cups. Troy then asked for the cups to be placed at the bottom of the kitchen’s windows to expose them to the sunlight. The initial project was complete. Troy knew that all he needed to do was water the soil every other day and wait for the beans to sprout.

The beans sprouted in two out of the four cups. We patiently waited for the other two cups, but nothing happened. Troy was extremely excited about the two new bean plants that sprouted. He was not too concerned about the two other cups that had no signs of sprouted beans. His demeanor sparked my curiosity and I asked Troy what happened to the beans that did not sprout and he simply stated; “Maybe they just wanted to stay beans.”

I learned that Troy’s actions were not focused on growing the “happiest” plants as he originally stated. He does not have the power to bestow happiness upon the beans or anyone for that matter. I realized that it is not our job nor within our power to make others happy.

This is an impossible goal to achieve within our personal or professional environment. We all have an idea of what it means to be happy; a common idea that varies in the details. As leaders it is not our job to make others happy but to ensure that we create the environment where those we are responsible for can thrive and can reach their maximum potential.

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Boston Police Department recruit class 55. (Photo courtesy bpdnews.com.)

An environment where one can be what they want to be and achieve what they want to achieve. We have control of the environment we create for our areas of responsibilities, our loved ones, peers, subordinates and seniors. As a parent I cannot bestow happiness upon my kids; however, I can create an environment that enables them to achieve their goals and become productive citizens.


(Photo courtesy Brandon Hanson)

We are the architects of those environments. The health, wellbeing and resiliency of those environments greatly depend upon how much we are willing to invest. You can provide the basics such as soil, light, and water or you can go the extra mile and warm up the beans before you set them free with the understanding that some will become fruitful plants and some will want to stay beans.

Roberto Brito is a USMC Combat Veteran of the Iraq War and a senior management official in the US Department of Homeland Security. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not represent the United States Marine Corps or the Department of Homeland Security.