Four leadership lessons from witnessing domestic violence as a six-year old

Paul Aladenika
4 min readMay 4, 2024
Image courtesy of Microsoft Copilot

This is the second in a three-part series of leadership lessons from my early life. The first blog covered ‘four leadership lessons from growing up in child poverty’ and the final offering will draw on ‘four leadership lessons from a childhood playground bully’.

In this blog, I am going to address ‘four leadership lessons from witnessing domestic violence as a six-year-old’.

Are there lessons that you remember from your childhood? Experiences that were so impactful that you can recall exactly what you were doing, who was present and even what was said?

I am going to share one such event, from my childhood, that has had a profound effect on how I practice leadership.

I was six years old at the time. It was late at night, and I was awoken by the sound of what seemed like water splashing. As I awoke, I could see that my two older brothers Mark aged eight and John aged nine were also awake. The next thing I knew we all rushed towards the sound of the noise and abruptly stopped at the at the top of the stairs.

As we looked down the stairs into the hallway leading to front door, we could see my father with an umbrella in his hand beating my mother across her back. I remember seeing at least two blows delivered. How many had been delivered before that I do not know. The next thing I knew, John shouted: “leave her alone, what has she done”. Then my mother called out to John and asked him to call the police. My father then shouted back at John: “it’s all your fault”. It felt like a descent into total madness.

In response to my mother’s plea, John then made his way down the stairs and navigated his way past my parents. Still brandishing the umbrella, I expected my dad to grab John and start beating him as well, but to my astonishment he did not. As we did not have a telephone at home, John then dashed out of the front door and made his way to the telephone box, which was about 100 yards from our house.

No more than 10 minutes later, the police arrived and calmed the situation down. Thankfully, there was no more violence that night.

It took me years to delayer and unpick that experience. But I am glad that I did because, from it, I learnt four critical lessons about leadership, which I would like to share.

1. Sometimes you need to run to danger

There are times when your leadership journey will take you to places that you would not choose to go. On that night, many decades ago, it was curiosity rather than courage that brought us to a place of potential danger. Notwithstanding, once we arrived, we felt compelled to remain. Leadership will take you out of your comfort zone and even push you into harms way. Conventional wisdom dictates that you must always think before you act. In leadership however, you must be ready to act before you think, because if you think, you won’t act.

2. Speak up in the moments that require your voice

Your voice may not seem powerful to you, but it may be significantly more powerful than the voices of those around you. In fact, when you speak it may the very catalyst that empowers others to do likewise. When I reflect on that traumatic night, there is no reason why the sole voice of reason should have been that of a nine-year-old, but it was. It was John’s voice that gave my mother the courage to ask for help. His courage in that moment could very well have saved her life. John’s heroics are also noteworthy because he understood that confronting my dad, as he did, would likely result in a severe beating, but he did it anyway.

3. Your best leadership lessons will come from your worst life experiences

I do not look for crises, but as someone who holds leadership responsibility, I have come to realise that I learn little during times of success and celebration. It is only when crises come that I discover myself. I initially tried to distance myself from the harrowing images of my mother’s assault that night. But by confronting the experience head on, I have been able to draw out some enriching and empowering lessons. I now routinely revisit even the most difficult and unpleasant past experiences, to search out the nuggets of learning that remain undiscovered.

4. Never let your grievance have power over you

As a child, I could have done without what I witnessed, that night. But as an adult, I am no longer its hostage. Today, despite my father’s behaviour and several even more egregious actions since, we a productive and cordial relationship. In leadership, you simply do not have the luxury of allowing your emotions to overpower you, no matter how justified you may believe them to be. Once in a position of leadership, if you behave towards others, as they behave towards you, then you are no better than them. In fact, you are much worse, because you will become the very behaviour that you hate.

Hopefully the context of this blog is not too ‘deep’. I have always found the most powerful lessons of leadership are those drawn from lived experience. The truth is that leadership can sometimes be a messy, risky and even dangerous enterprise. People who run into burning buildings to save those inside, do not always live to tell the story, whilst those who stand up to bullies in the workplace, may find that it is they who lose their jobs, not the bullies. Yet, as an adult, looking back at my six-year-old self, I realise that if you are not willing to risk everything, then your leadership is worth nothing.



Paul Aladenika

Believer, TEDx speaker, host of The 11th Thing Podcast, blogger, mentor, student of leadership, social economist & thinker. Creator of .