Leadership Lessons From Pipi Longstockings

If we want to be proud of the leaders of tomorrow, we need to prevent kids from unlearning the leadership skills they get born with.

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I never thought that some of my best reaffirmations on leadership development would come from my favorite children’s book- Pipi Longstockings of Astrid Lingdren. Pipi, you are my all-time favorite!

On the average, we start learning leadership skills when we are 30–40 years old, sometimes much later. The truth is, we all get born with a leader inside us and when we grow up, we choose whether we will wake him/her up by continuously developing through learning and experience. However, when we are children — it is the choice of our parents whether they would try to wake up the leaders inside us or they would try to put them to sleep.

First of all, if you have not read Pipi Longstockings, run to the bookstore or the library and read it by yourself rather than reading reviews on it and reflections on the movie. Pipi is a Swedish girl as is her creator Astrid Lindgren. Astrid completed the first book of the series back in 1944 (when it was refused first to be published) and during the following near 70 years Pipi has become a popular character but also a magnet for criticism for not being the neat and ladylike, obedient and studious role model we want for young girls. During the following years, Lindgren received many awards for her work, including the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the International Book Award from UNESCO.

So why am I writing about Pipi? Pipi had lots of money; she was stronger than any other person and lived a life of adventure. I have to admit that these factors are adding to her charisma but this is not why I decided to write about her.

First of all, let me say that most parents and teachers would freak out if they were to monitor what Pipi was doing during a regular day. She was very independent and self-sufficient at the young age of nine and lived her life according to her own rules rather than the rules of parents, teachers and society as all her peers did. She did not go to school (until she decided that it was not fair that she did not have a vacation as kids her age did) and pretty much did whatever she felt like doing on a particular day.

Did that make her less healthy, less intelligent or less happy? I don’t think so. I would argue the opposite. She was more healthy, more intelligent, more happy but also more creative and innovative than most kids I could think of, and kids her age looked up to her. More than anything else, she was extremely authentic and spontaneous and did not do anything just because “others say so” — she followed her own values. She could find joy and reason in whatever happened to her, she was spontaneous and rarely felt miserable.

There are already schools in which kids choose what they would study and can change their plans at any time; nothing is obligatory. They choose their classes, they choose their teachers. They do not study something unless they feel they need it or they find value and are interested in it. Facts show they learn considerably more than other kids their age.

There are companies in which people choose how they work and what they do, they can choose their wages as well.

Sounds impossible? It is possible because I am describing real cases. I believe that Pipi would be regularly visiting that school and would fit right into that company when she grows up.

The point is — as parents, teachers and society we teach kids to fit into boxes and follow rules. Then they join organizations and they keep trying to fit into the boxes, which we as managers and leaders create for them. Until one fine day they join leadership development classes and we start teaching them to be authentic, aware of own values, independently minded, visionary, courageous, innovative and creative — qualities that come natural for most kids and which Pipi definitely possesses. Admittedly, that process creates work for people like me but we end up being doctors that treat illnesses instead of practicing preventive medicine.

As a society, we need to prevent kids from unlearning the leadership skills they get born with.

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