How a 6-Year-Old Taught Me Leadership

Be a ‘Bucket Filler’

“You’re not being a bucket filler” Maya frowned at me, her keen eyes pinning me with an accusing stare.

Playfully, I had taken a strawberry from her snack bowl, following Evan’s lead taking a grape from mine. Rarely so serious, her look was one I had never seen, adding to my surprise.

Feeling scolded, unsure what a ‘bucket filler’ was and why I was accused of failing to be one, I asked, “What’s a bucket filler?” Genuinely wanting to learn from this little girl who continued to impart more wisdom than any professor or adviser.

Using the remaining fruit in our bowls to illustrate, she began plucking and redistributing strawberries and grapes, in a voice reminiscent of a teacher instructing a student, she explained, “You have to put things in people’s buckets, when you are nice you put something in their bucket, when you are not nice you take something out of their bucket. Every day we are supposed to be bucket fillers.” Her small voice annunciated each point, driving the point home.

I realized she was repeating a clever metaphor her teachers used to reinforce the Golden Rule. I smiled, captivated with its ability to reinforce a simple truth: Our interactions have a net impact, they have the potential to add to or detract from a person. When you do to others as you would do to yourself everyone gains, all ships rise in a high tide. However, this narrative so ubiquitous in our childhood is drowned out in adulthood.

Our interactions have a net impact, they have the potential to add to or detract from a person

All too often as adults, we perceive each other as buckets to empty, to extract value to better our own position. At what point did the Golden Rule so thoroughly instilled in us during childhood diminish and flip? Too often we walk into a room asking,  what can they do for me? Rather we should adopt, or more accurately re-adopt Maya’s perspective. We should perceive people as an empty bucket; an empty reservoir, we have the privilege and opportunity to fill rather than empty.

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