Byron's Babbles

Nervous As Kittens

Posted in Coaching, Education, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on June 27, 2015

Adorable-Grey-KittensAs I was reading during my personal professional growth time this morning, I read a comment by Richard Branson in his great book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership where he said he was nervous as kittens. After reading this I thought about our six newborn kittens we have in the barn right now. What a fitting phrase “Nervous As Kittens” is, because they are just that – nervous. It must be noted that I love cats. I believe what is attractive to me is the fact that they are not pack animals, like dogs. Cats are perfectly content to play by themselves or with other cats.

One thing I learned growing up on a farm that valued having an abundance of cats is the mother cats role. Mothers are key to having happy, secure kittens. Well socialized cats are more likely to have well socialized kittens. We always work very hard at spending time with our cats so they are socialized to people. Kittens often mirror their mothers’ calm or fearful attitude toward people or other animals; this is a normal part of their socialization. In other words, we play a vital role in the development of kittens. By petting, talking to and playing with our new kittens, we can help them develop good people skills. Then I read some startling research: kittens who are gently handled 15-40 minutes per day during their first seven weeks are more likely to develop larger brains. That really got me thinking about the connection to leadership, which was what I was reading about in the first place.

So, I compared what I learned and reflected on with kittens to that of leading people in an organization. What I thought about was modeling and exemplars.richard-branson-83

Modeling and Exemplars

Kittens learn many important lessons from their mothers. They learn from their mothers by observing. Research shows that kittens taken from their mothers at weaning are much slower to develop. As leaders, we need to learn from this and model for those in our organization the proper behaviors. Make no mistake, I am not saying I do this well. If being honest we would probably all say we need to be much better at this. I certainly do!


I am a big believer in using exemplars in education and learning. Sometimes people want to argue with me and say that the student will just do the assignment exactly like the exemplar. Well, duh, that is exactly what I want them to do. It amazes me how people will resist this with students, but in real world, real work we are given templates and exemplars all the time. In fact we would not think of beginning many projects without them. That is why I believe they are even more important for our students.

How many times have you said, “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.” What you were really saying is we need a model or exemplar. Certainly nothing wrong with that! Next time we reflect on those we lead and the students some of us educate, let’s not forget the lessons of the nervous kittens and make sure we are providing the modeling and exemplars we have learned to be so very important from the mother cat.


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