Guest post by Jessica L. Beck
Leadership Lessons Children Teach Us
After the birth of my son, I found it a huge struggle to return to work, not because I didn’t enjoy my job, but because of the constant juggle between competing priorities. I needed to switch from work-mode immediately to parenting-mode at the end of the day. But are the two roles really that different? As I found my footing as a working parent, I have noticed many parallels between leadership at work and leadership at home.
1. Modeling Good Behavior
After making my fruit-averse toddler strawberry pancakes, from scratch, I was sitting in frustration as I watched him drop every piece to the floor. The toddler-feeding class I took told me not to react. So, I began peeling and biting into an orange. I was about to give in and give my son some breakfast biscuits when he pointed at my orange and said “orange?” and opened his mouth. If it was good enough for me to eat, he certainly wanted to try.
We can preach all day long about our company values, but if you are not alongside your employees performing the behavior you want them to perform, you lose credibility. You may also not understand what you are asking people to do if you are not doing it yourself. Maybe the food is stale but if we are not eating it, how would we know?
2. Allowing Failure to Grow
When we see a child struggling to perform a task it can be tempting to swoop in and do it for them so they (and we) can avoid the discomfort. If we can hold back and instead encourage them to do it themselves, they can learn. When my son struggles with his puzzles and starts to get upset, I say, “try again” and often he gets it after a few more tries. Sometimes he puts his hands up and says, “I did it!” and smiles. He would not have this level of joy if he did not accomplish the puzzle himself.
We must also sometimes let go of perfectionism to allow others to learn. My son now puts his clothes in the hamper every night. Sometimes he misses the basket, but I let him keep trying till it makes it in, no matter how tired I may be.
Most employees want stretch assignments. It can be a struggle to trust others, especially if you are a senior leader. We need to help guide and coach but only by trusting and allowing others to try that will they be given the beautiful gift of growth.
We are often scared to learn new things for many reasons. We are sometimes afraid of the new responsibilities that may come with the newfound knowledge, and sometimes that is routed in a fear of failure. As leaders, we must learn to overcome this fear and nurture an environment where the employees are encouraged to grow as well.
3. Nurturing Curiosity
Door handles and locks are opening and closing. The microwave beeps after some buttons are pressed. The TV lights up after some attention is paid to a remote control. My toddler is quietly watching all of it. Every day he is figuring things out and learning something new.
Children naturally ask “Why?” to pretty much everything. As parents we will need to explain things we may have never even thought about before. Occasionally in explaining why, we realize things don’t make sense.
The answer “because it has always been that way” will not satisfy a child and will not satisfy an employee either. Praise employees when they ask questions and suggest new solutions. A suggestion may not always be plausible, but if an employee doesn’t feel like their ideas are being listened to and considered, they will stop contributing them.
4. Finding Joy
I ask my toddler “where is the ball?” He then runs from place to place in the house looking for it. When he happens upon it, he exclaims “ball!” and picks it up and throws it and laughs wildly! A simple question turned into a joyous quest. Sure, the weight of the world has yet to rest on his shoulders, but if we take a minute to reflect, isn’t there something here that we’ve lost along the way?
We invest so much of ourselves in our professional lives. Believing everything is a crisis will surely cause us to experience burn out. Worse, these perceptions we carry could cause the employees that depend on us for guidance and direction to experience burn out too.
As leaders, we can set the tone within our structure and influence how our employees engage with each other. We can laugh. We can say kind words. We can bring donuts to celebrate a team achievement.
Brazilian writer and singer Paulo Coelho said, “A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be curious, and to fight tirelessly for something.” We encourage our children to continue to learn and grow and we should be asking the same of ourselves. What have your kids taught you about being a better leader?