The Four-Year Old CEO
Leadership lessons you learned in kindergarten
Many years ago, I read the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. I reflected on this work many times throughout the years, especially because I had been a kindergarten teacher.
Recently, as I prepared for a leadership workshop, I re-visited this list and was struck by the relevance of Fulghum’s message for today’s leaders. Kindergarten is a place where we learn skills that can set us up in life. How many of these kindergarten lessons have stuck with you in your role as leader?
As a leader, you have knowledge and expertise that, when shared, can enhance the culture of your organization. However, the sharing must be authentic and delivered with transparency honouring your employees. It can never be seen as arrogance.
It is also important to authentically share yourself so that people get to know you. In sharing yourself, you will gain people’s respect. They will come to understand where you are coming from and why you are making the decisions you are making. Never be afraid to be vulnerable! Vulnerability is human, admirable and a sign that you are willing to connect deeply.
Leaders who are known to be fair gain the confidence of their employees and experience high productivity in their organizations. Fairness is a concept that everyone understands and desires. When leaders are perceived to be less-than-fair there is resentment, low productivity and unhealthy work environment.
Don’t Hit People
Of course, leaders are not literally going to hit people and yet, the lesson should not go unexplained. This leadership lesson centres around hitting people when they are down or when they are hurting. If you engage in this kind of figurative “hitting” you are going to lose the trust and respect of people. They may even see you as a bully.
Instead, it is wise to get to know your employees, to know when they are at their peak and when they are not. It is much more fruitful to push people when they are at the top of their game. Showing people that you recognize they are not currently at their best and that you are willing to support them at this time will go a long way. In the long run, they will want to work even harder for you and they will be more productive.
Put Things Back Where You Found Them
Get organized. Clear your space of clutter and things that are left unfinished. Your space is indicative of the mindset you have and the energy you are projecting. If you are cluttered with many things lying around you will be perceived as inefficient, not as someone who can get things done.
Clean Up Your Own Mess
Take responsibility for your actions. When leaders try to deflect their own “messes,” it creates distrust and disharmony. Employees will become fearful that they may be “thrown under the bus” at some point. Productivity will certainly fall off and your hopes of building a strong team will be lost, perhaps forever. An irresponsible leader is one who has little respect for his/her employees resulting in little respect in return. Never be afraid to make and own mistakes.
Don’t Take Things That Aren’t Yours
Hopefully leaders are not taking things from people’s desks or the staff lounge! But, are you taking credit away from those who have earned it? Employees are hyper aware of the work they have put into projects and daily responsibilities. If the leader does not give credit where credit is due there will be reduced productivity because employees will believe they are not appreciated. Everyone wants and needs appreciation. Give it openly, honestly and freely. It will fill your employees with gratitude and will fill you as well.
Say You’re Sorry When You Hurt Somebody
This one tip will go a very long way with your organization. Too many people (leaders or not) are very wary of apologizing. They believe it makes them appear weak and vulnerable. This fear is deep and prevents people from connecting with others. However, people want honesty and a connected relationship. Saying sorry shows that you are willing to be open and honest and that you care about your teams. This tip will actually help you to appear strong because you are not afraid to be vulnerable.
Wash Your Hands Before You Eat
Washing your hands before you eat will literally help you maintain good health habits, helping you to do your job. However, figuratively you are ensuring that you are coming to the table with a clean slate. You are washing away anything that will get in your way of starting off the day well. The Eastern Philosophy concept of Beginner’s Mind speaks to this issue. Simply put, it means that you look at everything with fresh eyes, as though you have never seen it before. You are “washing away” all of the baggage that you are bringing to the new situation so that you can have a fresh and clean look at what is in front of you right now. Using Beginner’s Mind will give you clear vision and you will be a more effective leader.
We all hope you literally flush! However, figuratively you are flushing all of the negative energy that you are carrying around with you so that you can get on with the business of creating vision and working with your teams. Energy is palpable and people can sense, and potentially absorb, your negative energy. It will make your teams less inclined to work to their potential when they feel uneasy.
Warm Cookies and Cold Milk Are Good for You
We all have fond memories of comfort food that calms us down and makes us feel better. These foods connect us and make us feel cared for. While you may not be actually serving warm cookies and cold milk, it is a good idea to treat your teams from time-to-time so they feel nurtured and wanted.
Live a Balanced Life: Learn Some and Think Some and Draw and Paint and Sing and Dance and Play and Work Every Day
You cannot be an effective leader if you are out-of-balance. You are putting yourself and your teams at risk because you will not be operating at your full potential. In fact, you are likely re-acting to situations instead of being pro-active, putting yourself at risk of burning out. It is no secret that work-life balance is well-researched and critically important. Yet, leaders still believe they must burn the candle at both ends.
Learning new things, thinking, drawing, painting, singing, dancing and playing are also keys to becoming a great leader. Not only do these activities help you to live a balanced life, they also serve to ignite your creativity, giving you an edge with your organization.
Take a Nap Every Afternoon
While it would be wonderful to enjoy a rejuvenating nap every day, it is likely impossible in your busy day. However, you do have time to close your eyes and focus on your breath for as little as five minutes. The research tells us that a few minutes of meditation each day can re-wire our brains, enabling us to access our para-sympathetic nervous system which allows us to re-energize and find calm.
When You Go Out Into the World, Watch Out For Traffic
In today’s world of mobile devices this tip is exceedingly valuable and potentially life-saving. It is all too easy for people to wander aimlessly into traffic as they are so immersed in checking messages or texting. When Fulghum wrote this piece there were no cell phones and he had no idea just how valuable this advice would become. Stay in the moment, put that device away. It might just save your life one day!
Hold Hands and Stick Together
In this fast-paced world that is filled with challenging times it is important that people stick together, working cooperatively and helping each other through every step of the way. Strong leaders provide multiple opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. It is also helpful to note that today’s millennials have been educated in cooperative learning environments. It is how they work and learn best.
However, cooperative teams do not just happen when you put people together. Instead an effective leader will understand how to build teams using these five elements: positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, individual accountability, social skills and group processing.
Be Aware of Wonder!
The world is filled with wonder. Looking for it everywhere will keep you fresh and strong. People are attracted to leaders who see wonder. It demonstrates that the leader has vision. On the other hand, people are repelled by those who view the world as mundane, seeing only the drudgery of the work day. Leaders who seek wonder and share it are inspirational and creative. What kind of leader do you aspire to be?
Do you remember these kindergarten lessons? While this learning was likely several years ago, it is never too late to re-visit them, applying them to your current role as leader. Self-reflection is a valuable tool for us as we seek self-actualization.
Be the leader you are destined to be!