You are probably familiar with the tale of the three little pigs, but have you stopped to consider how this story connects to your preconceived notions of leadership? Or just as important, student leadership?
Recall that the first pig built his house from straw, but alas failed. The second pig built his house from sticks, but again failed. It wasn’t until the third pig built his house from bricks that success ensued. Many people, including myself, have been conditioned to discount the efforts of the first two pigs categorizing their judgments as “bad ones,” acknowledging that the third pig made the “right choice.” While the third pig may have been successful, he doesn’t necessarily embody the true essence of a leader. Therefore, I am going to retell this tale from a different perspective, showcasing how the third pig can demonstrate three levels of leadership: private, public, and personal (James Scouller’s “The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Knowhow and Skill.”)
In the classic tale, each pig worked in isolation. However, let’s imagine for a moment that after the house of straw collapses, the third pig follows up with the first pig by asking, “Straw was an interesting choice, but was too weak to withstand the wolf. Is there another way to use this material in the process of building a home?” Instead of likening straw to a “bad idea,” the third pig exercises his private leadership ability by giving honest, effective feedback. When done in this manner, he keeps a motivating purpose while acknowledging the value of the first pig’s skill set.
Moving on to the moment after the house of sticks collapses, envision that the third pig initiates an encouraging dialogue to a somewhat dejected group. “It seems like we have some experts among us. I would like each one of you to consider how your building material might contain an alternate value in our process of creating a home.”
After some thought the first pig asks, “What about using straw as a landscaping material?” The second pig also chimes in. “What about using sticks for insulation and decoration?” The third pig now has an “a-ha” moment and exclaims, “Great ideas! Using straw to landscape our home will help us develop fertile soil to grow crops so we will never go hungry. And the sticks can certainly be used as firewood to heat our home along with using some really sturdy pieces to create furniture.” In this exchange, the third pig exercises his public leadership skills. He correctly delegates tasks based on spotting talent and suggests how to integrate ideas to effectively build a home. All the while he keeps the group unified and ensures task progress.
Finally, after a long day, the third pig ventures back home and thinks to himself, “Although my original brick house was a good option, it wasn’t my only option. Learning from mistakes allowed me to build a newer, improved version of a home.” In essence, the third pig realizes he has the ability to grow beyond old habits and exhibits the personal leadership ability of self-mastery.
As the Next Generation Science Standards and STEM initiatives take center stage, the upgraded tale offers a model by which science classrooms can be transformed to foster student leadership for the 21st century. Just as the three pigs needed to engineer a stable home for survival, students also need to experience the act of solving a real world problem that is applicable to their lives. However, it is important for students to realize that these meaningful challenges are not solved in isolation. Rather, they need to become aware of their own strengths and weaknesses in relation to others. Only by melding all abilities and talents together in a productive way can students become innovative leaders.
For the current generation of students to become successful leaders, they must take their cue from this reinvented third pig by detaching from his original mindset that there is a “right answer” and adopting his transformed belief that there are several “possibilities” to an outcome. Just as the pigs were plagued by the wolf, students must learn to be resilient and persistent when facing adversity. They must be willing to venture outside the safety and security of their brick homes in order to approach problems from different angles. It is at this point that true leadership will naturally take root, cultivating rich collaborations that maximize the value of peer contributions.
It is my hope that this modified tale can be used to tell students a new story that aligns with the leadership behaviors becoming more common in the workplace. In addition, it can be universally applied to help teachers strengthen their own leadership abilities. As educators we must effectively blend the domains of personal, public and private leadership in order to project a model that students can draw from. As we continue to structure authentic learning opportunities, we must take into account the old adage, “Two heads are better than one.” Or as the tale suggests, “three.”