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7 Leadership Lessons from our Children (if we are paying attention)



We often hear the adage that Parents are the first and most important teachers of our children. Today, I challenge you to stop, think, and reflect on whether sometimes the roles should be reversed.


As we celebrated Father's Day (in Australia) on the weekend I watched in wonder and awe as I considered the beauty and simplicity in the way children see the world.

Could children be our best mentors about leadership and relationships (if we are paying attention)?


Of course, children still have much to learn about the world. They do learn and they learn very quickly. However, the question for today is what would happen if we allowed our children to help us to unlearn, relearn, and re-discover things that we once knew and have long since forgotten.


1. Time is our most precious gift


In a materialistic world, we are often driven to want more. A bigger house; a bigger car; a bigger salary. We find ourselves always striving for more success. more promotions, more everything.


Our children can teach us that time is the most precious gift that we have and that we can give to each other.


A beautiful example of this is my 2-year old son. As typical with many kids, Thomas has a toy chest full of interesting things that he could be playing with. However, the highlight of his day is when he helps me to take the garbage to the garbage chute in our apartment complex.


Of course, Thomas still enjoys his toys and little surprises, but the thing that he craves most is his time and experiences together.


Now consider this in the workplace. When you are considering how to reward and motivate your team, what role does time play? Is it time spent with you to share their ideas? Is it more time to work on their pet project? Is it time off to spend with their kids and families?


Time is the most precious non-renewable resource we have. Spend it wisely; live in the moment; and consider how you can use time as a gift for others.


2. Living in the service of others


Children love to help and they love to feel that they are helpful. Sometimes this helpfulness is less than helpful, but it is still beautiful just the same. This could be wanting to fold the laundry (that you will later have to re-fold) or wanting to help with cooking in the kitchen.


When they do help with household duties they get a beaming smile across their face. They feel proud; they feel useful and included; they feel like a grown-up.


When they do help around the house they are constantly learning. This is the type of experiential learning that will stay with them forever. They can learn far more from helping you prepare dinner than they could from watching shows about it on YouTube.


As parents, we sometimes falling into the trap of not wanting this kind of "help" because you know it will slow you down and you may be in for a whole chunk of rework. However, when we shy away from this we are robbing our kids of a golden opportunity to learn and grow.


Now, take this one to the workplace. Do you find yourselves with team members who really want to help but you are not letting them in? Do you fall into the trap of feeling that teaching someone else will take too long or being worried about how much re-work you might be up for. Falling into the trap of the dreaded "I might as well do it myself".


If we are taking this approach, just like with our children, we are robbing our team of the best opportunities they have to learn and grow. This is unfair to them and will also stifle the growth of your organisation if you are the only person that can do key activities.


3. Staying Curious


In millions of families all across the globe, as you are reading this, there are kids asking the (sometimes) dreaded question...... "but why?"


From the age of 2, not long after kids learn to speak, they start questioning everything, and their favourite question is "Why?"


For parents, I have bad news. The temptation and urge to just dodge the question with "because I said so" is not going to cut it either.


For my son Henry, it didn't him long to progress even further and start challenging my answers with his favourite question "But how do you know?". Now that is an even more challenging question to answer.


The boundless curiosity of children is a beautiful thing. It is not that they are challenging you; challenging your authority; or challenging the world. Their brains are developing at an incredible rate and they want to make sense of the world. They are learning cause and effect and trying their best to understand how life works.


As we get older, many of us lose this. Our ego drives us to the point of not asking questions for the fear of looking stupid. We stop asking why and we just start accepting what we have been told.


There can be some positives in this. Stoicism teaches us to not worry about things that are not in our control. However, I can't help but think of the lost opportunities of hidden innovations that never surface. Think of all the things that we do on "auto-pilot" every day without stopping to ask why we are doing it. Think of the lost productivity (and frustration) in the workplace of people continuing to follow processes and procedures with a rationale that is long forgotten.


My challenge for you today is two-fold. If you are a parent, the next time your kids ask "why", get curious with them. In some cases, and if you are honest with yourself, you may not know the answer either. So, get curious and discover the answer with them. This teaches them to think and you learn something along the way too.


The second challenge is to consider your workplace. What are you doing to foster curiosity in your team? Think of processes you are following where no one remembers why. Consider if you have a culture where people are too frightened to ask questions and what you might do to fix that.


4. Authenticity


Authenticity is one of the most precious traits of a leader. When a leader shows up as their authentic self, it gives others the license to do the same. Everyone can relax and just be their true, beautiful, and gifted selves.


Young children have a tendency to be genuine and authentic in all that they do. They have yet to learn how to hide their emotions or their intentions. This also manifests an ability to boldly ask for what they want. Most of all, you generally always know where they stand, and how they are feeling.


As we grow, and our inhibitions kick in, we tend to suppress this overt expression of emotion.

Of course, we do not want a workplace where people are not able to regulate their emotions. People crying at the drop of a hat if they do not get what they want. However, there is still a lot to learn from the authenticity of children.


In the workplace, team members spend many hours wondering about what their boss thinks of them and thinks of their work. Do they like my work? What does the boss expect of me? What will make them happy?


It is also very common for a team member to be too shy to ask for something that would help them do their job better. A fear of looking incapable or incompetent if they ask for help.


The challenge here is to consider how you can foster the authenticity of children in your team. For your team to not have to second guess what you are thinking; how you are feeling; or what are your intentions. For them to have the courage to speak up and ask for what they want or need.


5. Courage, Resilience, and Persistence


Children are courageous (by our standards). This will show up in many funny ways. It could be that your child wants to wear their lion outfit when visiting the zoo (see picture of Thomas above) and does not think for a second about what others may think about that. Courage is the ability to try something new (to act) despite any fear of doing so. Courage can be to ditch your inhibitions and limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs kill more dreams than failure ever has, and yet as adults, we are often letting fear hold us back.


Children also tend to bounce back from failures and setbacks very quickly. They let go of mistakes pretty quickly and have the persistence and tenacity to try again.


This fosters a wonderful growth mindset. Each attempt at trying something new is a new opportunity to learn and grow.


If they don't know how to do something, they get resourceful and use trial and error until they get it right.


Importantly, they are typically proud of their progress. Instead of chastising themselves for the mistakes made, they have a beaming smile of pride as they get better each time.


Their persistence drives a never give up attitude and they keep going until they have worked it all out.


Consider this in your workplace and whether you do the same. Do you give up when something doesn't work in the first 2 - 3 attempts? Worst still, do your limiting beliefs prevent you from trying in the first place? When you fail do you only focus on what went wrong? or do you also take the time to celebrate what went right?


6. Empathy


Most children are very adept and reading the emotions of others. They are very perceptive. They can see when someone is happy; scared; or sad.


This presents itself in 2 powerful ways - reflective learning and caring.


Reflective learning is a child's ability to read emotions to understand if they are doing the right thing. They look to their parents, and other people they trust, to understand how they should feel at any given time. Remember, they are still trying to make sense of the world and to make sense of their own emotions and who they are. When encountering something new, they will take little sideways glances to perceive how you are feeling and reacting.


A perfect example of this is a child's first swimming lesson. Before entering the pool for the first time, they will take those sneaky glances toward their parents to see if this is "okay". This is a key moment in that child's life. If the parent's face has fear written all over it, there is a high probability the kid will develop (at least for a while) a fear of water. If the parent has a beaming smile and encouraging demeanour they may well jump straight in and have a bunch of fun.


We never fully grow out of this. In the workplace, we are taking those sideways glances to our boss and to our peers. We ask non-verbal questions of "Is this okay?" every day. We are trying to get an instantaneous read on whether we are doing the right thing or not. As leaders, we need to be aware of the power of this. Not to suppress it, but to be very intentional with the influence we have.


Children are also very caring. If they see that their parent or one of their friends is sad, they will typically always try to help and try to be there for that person. The way they try to help can be funny at times, but the fact they want to help is beautiful.


We know that empathy is an amazing trait in a leader. My challenge for you today is to consider what you can learn about empathy from children around you.


7. Inclusion and Belonging


There are many lessons we can learn from children when it comes to inclusion.


This all starts before kids have encountered a society full of implicit bias fuelled by confirmation bias and (now) algorithmic bias.


In these early years, children treat all others as equals and include them in activities. They focus more on what they have in common with their friends than what is different. Children of all races and religions finding common ground in their love of playing games and learning. This is something that is just beautiful to watch.


We can also learn a lot about inclusion from older kids, such as teenagers. However, this often comes as a negative learning.


We seen teenagers struggling to belong. Their need for love and belonging drives them to do things that they may not be comfortable doing (the dreaded peer pressure).


They will also encounter times where they feel excluded. Where they don't fit in. This can be incredible tough emotionally for them.


I am sure if you cast your own mind back to High School there would be times where you did not feel like you belonged. Where you felt excluded.


I want you to remember how that felt.


My challenge for you is to think about your own workplace. Are you creating an environment that mirrors the inclusion of young children playing together at the park or do you have the exclusion that many teenagers feel at High School?


Always remember that your team is spending up to one-third of their life in the workplace. No one deserves to feel excluded. Everyone deserves to feel that they belong.


Beyond being the right thing to do, it is also good for business. A team member that feels included will always engage more than if they feel on the outer. They will connect to their work and pour their heart and soul into all that they do.


Summary


Whilst children still have much to learn about the world, we also have much to learn from them. In many cases, this is to unlearn habits we have developed over time that are now holding us back. It could also be to relearn something that we once knew but somehow lost along the way.


Take some time today to think about what you can unlearn, learn, and relearn from watching how children react to the world around them.



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