A Kid’s Guide to Leadership

If you pay close attention to children, you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn … or better yet, maybe “unlearn.” Let me explain.

Kids are refreshingly honest, curious and usually happy. Kids are risk-takers. They think about the opportunity in the adventure and not the risks. That is until adults intervene. Adults, trying to help kids grow up and stay safe, also try to educate them only to constrain their honesty, reduce their willingness to take risks and dampen their curiosity. I know. I’ve done that in some instances to my own children.

The beauty of life before bias—can we go back?
As leaders, we’re teaching others through our actions and words. But what are we “teaching”? We fight our “learned” behaviors every day. We battle bias—seen and unseen. Children usually don’t have a bias. Fortunately, they haven’t developed them or “learned” them yet. They take the world the way they see it. There’s a real beauty in that simplicity.

I miss that youthful simplicity and I yearn for it. There are times, in meetings when I lose it or overreact, and I’m disappointed in myself. I realize in that moment I’m not my best self and I’m not teaching in a way I should. Truthfully, I would be embarrassed if my kids saw me act that way.

It’s during times like this that I think back to my own time as a child. That little kid riding his bike to the park always smiling, laughing and excited about what lied ahead that day. I was energized by the world and not demoralized by it.

Every day I make an effort to bring my better self forward, at home and at work. To be that kid in spirit … a kid on a bike with grey hair, blowing in the wind and a tie flopping around. Curious, excited, happy and open to new possibilities—just a little older.

The struggle to both protect and liberate is real
As a parent, I worry that through my desire to “teach” my children I am constraining them. I have an internal battle going on inside my head. One side wants to help and protect them. The other side wants to liberate them and let them learn on their own. I want them to see their world through their eyes and not mine. I want them to decide what they want not based on what we already have, but on what they truly desire or their dreams of what could be. I want them to try new things, and if they fail, I hope they learn from it. This is not always easy, because as their parent I feel bad when they have a setback. I’m worried will they be ok?

That tension between protecting them and liberating them is very real for me. I think about it often and I question my behaviors and what I have “learned” through life. I think this tension is natural and reflection has helped me be a better parent and leader. I have learned a lot from others of all ages. But my children have taught me the most and held me to the highest standards. And for that I thank them.

Children really can be the greatest teachers
I read an article in Fast Company recently that really stuck with me. The article is called We asked 10 kids to “draw a leader”—here’s what they did and the genesis behind the story is really clever. After The New York Times wrote an article on what current executives drew when asked to draw a leader, Fast Company decided to ask the same question of children. Their responses are nothing short of inspirational. When you read the story, it’s hard not to smile, maybe even cry and reflect upon their answers. Their messages are so simple yet so powerful. I would argue kids may be among the greatest teachers and leaders, or at least they possess some of the best traits we should expect in the “grown-ups” who get paid to be leaders.

Read the article. Then tell me, seriously, wouldn’t you want your leaders to embody these traits?