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What children can teach us about leadership

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Leadership lessons often come from bosses or mentors – people who have experienced what we’re going through, and who can offer sound advice thanks to their expertise in a particular field.

But what about looking elsewhere for leadership tips? I am not a parent, but I’ve got enough family and friends who are, and if I’m honest their children are and endless supply of lessons in how we can live our lives better.

As we age, we become somewhat cynical about life and are fast to be negative and dismiss things as we deal with working long hours, stress, bills, mortgages, etc. I’m no parenting expert – or leadership expert – but I think there are a number of things we can learn from children, if we really wanted to.

Negotiating skills and excellent reasoning

I’m lucky enough to have immediate family living in Singapore, and one of the best parts of this is my cousin’s nearly three-year-old boy, who has become a master negotiator. On top of this, he can give some pretty decent reasoning as to why he should/shouldn’t have to do something.

When kids learn how to negotiate, they tend to pick up the basics pretty quickly, such as timing their negotiations just right or getting an older sibling on their side before stating their case. Have the right charm is a big part of the package as well, and that cute smirk this toddler gives is pretty difficult to resist.

When all else fails, negotiate like a toddler (but without the kicking and screaming if you don’t get your way, please).

They’re happy because they’ve got no reason not to be, until someone gives them one

Kids’ glasses are always half full. Life is full of sunshine and candy and rainbows because they aren’t too hardened by life to assume that everything is too good to be true.

It’s a wonderful trait, which sadly fades with age, but it’s an excellent reminder to believe in the present and to remain with a smile on your face because things are going right now – not because something negative mighthappen in the future.

They are constantly curious

My mother, who was a primary school teacher for decades, always said you should never respond to the constant “But why? But why? But WHY?” from kids with an angry, “Because it just IS! Okay?!”

It’s this very curiosity and the need to have answers which builds smarts and character, and is actually an excellent sign of intelligence. On top of this, this persistent inquisitiveness is something we can all learn from.

Why just accept something without questioning it? Why not let your mind wander? Perhaps you should really start questioning why you do what you do, whether it’s the way you run a certain programme, or the reasons behind a particular corporate policy.

As adults, we often forget how to properly question, yet this is the best way we can solve our problems.

They’re kind, big-hearted and genuine in their actions

It feels so wonderful to get a hug from a child, or be given a drawing they did “just for you” because it’s usually 100% genuine.

Most children have a large amount of compassion that comes naturally, and they’re not going to follow up an action or something another person says with an eye roll or a sarcastic comment.

Being compassionate is fundamental to being a good leader, and those who understand the emotional particulars of their employees will go furthest in this constant rat race.

Persistence will often get them what they want

Say your child wants a dog, what do they do? First, they ask nicely for it – over and over and over again. You explain why you can’t have a puppy (multiple times) and give them solid reasons as to why your answer is final (multiple times).

This might go on for weeks or months, until one day something happens, and they suddenly have multiple reasons to counter-act your original reasoning. “If we had a dog, we probably wouldn’t have been burgled”. “If we had a dog, daddy would walk it and you wouldn’t complain about him not exercising”.

Eventually, something triggers you to start Googling, and you come across multiple reasons why your kid might be right. If science and fact backs it up, it’s harder to keep arguing. So you decide that you will get a dog, but you’ll surprise them and also make it seem as though it was your idea, so they know who’s boss.

Now, substitute “dog” for something like “training budget” and pretend the parent is actually your CEO. Sound familiar?

They respond to praise, not criticism

Positive reinforcement is a huge part of raising children, and the process is no different when dealing with employees. As with children, criticism often doesn’t make employees change their behaviour – but rewarding them publicly for positive behaviour does.

When they test your boundaries – both children and employees – use positive reinforcement to help them learn and grow. It’s not all child’s play!

Image: Shutterstock 

Hong Kong HR Masterclass Series: 27th March Strengthening the mental resilience and wellbeing of employees -
improving employee engagement, talent retention and organisational productivity.
Register now here

 
Rebecca Lewis
Editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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