Hello SOTGC community,
My daughter is a mere five-year old, but she is the COO of our house, and she lives life without apology or explanation. She has strong convictions, specific opinions about everything, and is never afraid of speaking her mind. Her navigation through the intricacies of daily life reveals the most valuable leadership lessons I have ever come across, and I can’t help but stop, listen, and learn.
She has been trying to figure out the notes to “Oh Come Little Children” on her violin for three weeks now. She has not given up. Every day after dinner she will pick up her violin and start again. Some days end with frustrated tantrums of epic proportions. But she will return the next day to try again. This is how she masters every song, slowly but surely.
You have not achieved success overnight. It has come with persistent hard work, great work ethics, and practice – lots of practice! That will never change. Whether you are just starting your career, or whether you are a 20-year veteran, persistence is one quality that will never get old. If you have not achieved the results you expect as quickly as you expect, find out why. If you have been turned down for a promotion, follow up and ask what you can do to improve your skills. If your proposal has been rejected, check if you have supplied enough data to make your idea seem viable. If your sales are not picking up at the pace you want, ask yourself if you have done everything to research the target market. There is always another step you can take that takes you closer to your goal.
Despite all my attempts to steer her towards more “neutral” colors, she loves pink. She is a typical girly-girl and proud of it. It doesn’t make her any less strong or opinionated. She loves princesses because of the pretty clothes, thinks Barbie is boring because she doesn’t do anything useful with her life, and she holds these and other opinions without fear or doubt.
Leadership is about conviction in your beliefs, about accepting who you are, and being proud of it. You have to be comfortable in your own skin before you can lead a group of people. You have to be comfortable with your own leadership style, your ability to make decisions, your methods to achieve results. You cannot convince everyone else that you are the right person for the job if you don’t believe it yourself.
We spend almost our entire day trying to stay one step ahead of her.
- A really bad tantrum will result in her TV privileges being taken away for a day. She will accept this punishment and immediately start looking for workarounds – “I didn’t see any TV last Saturday, so I can make that TV day tomorrow.”
- No junk food before dinner. “If I have just one piece of candy now, and save the rest for later, I will still be hungry enough to finish at least most of my dinner.”
- Only one toy allowed in bed. “These two are the same size as that one large teddy bear, so it shouldn’t matter.”
And this is really all there is to it – how can you get the results you want with minimum compromise? Because there will be compromise. You cannot assume that you will get exactly what you want in every situation. What you can do to help yourself is to think ahead and mitigate risks.
- Think of everything that can go wrong, think of everyone who can help you prevent potential problems, and cultivate relationships with them.
- Plan ahead before you enter into a negotiation. Arm yourself with data, analysis, facts, and valid arguments.
- When you are negotiating, keep your emotions under check. State the positive outcomes and place a lot of emphasis on “this is how it affects you positively” or “this is why there are no negative outcomes to you”.
When she is rolling on the floor and shouting, we understand nothing. When she talks to us with clear words, we are more apt to give her what she wants. Throw in some respect and kindness, and we will cheerfully let her get away with anything! She has not figured out all of this yet, but it’s a message we repeat often – “use your words otherwise you won’t get anything.”
In the “grownup” world this obviously gets a lot more nuanced, but the basic premise is the same – if you don’t communicate effectively your entire message will be lost in translation.
- Organize your thoughts to some extent before you speak.
- Whenever possible, provide your listeners with advance notice and information about what you are going to discuss.
- Be concise and precise, use clear words to articulate exactly what you want – nothing more, nothing less.
- Avoid conflict. Show respect and empathy. If you encounter aggression, maintain composure and stick to your message.
- Be a good listener, pay attention, and make eye contact with the speaker.
- Perfect the details of nonverbal communication – memos/agendas, PowerPoints, positive body language – everything matters.
From the time she wakes up, it’s a continuous game of give and take. Firm decisions are made by both parties, but there is plenty of room for flexibility! She can pick her outfit the night before, but if the weather isn’t cooperating she must agree to an additional sweater in the morning. She can pick the time of day for violin practice, but she cannot skip practice.
In your career you will make many decisions big and small. You will implement ideas, define strategies, make hiring decisions, etc., … and before you know it you are thinking on your feet and making split-second decisions every day! Many of your decisions will be worth fighting for, but keep an open mind. Maybe it is an idea that you are devoted to and you simply cannot see it implemented any other way. Maybe it’s a chapter in your book that you cannot allow edits on. You have, after all, put so much thought into it; and it is backed by your knowledge and experience. Should you change your mind? Not really. You don’t have to rethink your entire frame of mind and second-guess yourself, but you have to wonder if there is any weight to the alternative opinions and counter arguments coming at you. The more open you are to a new point of view, the more you learn.
Learning from failures
Like any five-year old, she wants to do everything herself. Which means she fails often, several times a day. She has been failing at braiding her hair for several weeks now. She has repeatedly failed at trying to wear a complicated swimsuit the right way (it has too many straps!) She wants to stop using her Sippy cups but every time she tries using a cup it is an epic fail – there are chocolate milk stains everywhere! Has she stopped trying any of these things? Not at all! Children have the innate ability to misunderstand failure; they simply see it as a chance to do something again.
When your project isn’t successful, that is a failure. When you walk away without any lesson learned from that failed project, that is a mistake. Failures are glorious opportunities for you to show the world your courage and resilience. When you fail, then pick up the pieces and start again, you are well on your way to real success!
Independent as she is, her most favorite moments in life are when she is together with mom and dad. She will offer up every incentive she can if it means we can do things “together” –
“I can teach you a new dance move if you dance with me!”
“If I get infinite MVP stickers I can get you a free racquet then we can all play tennis!”
“Play soccer with me so that I can get tired and go to bed early.” (We can’t argue with that one!) In her own simple way, she has put together a cohesive unit and works hard at maintaining it!
“Team Building” isn’t exactly a popular phrase. The Internet is rife with cringe-worthy examples of team-building exercises. Even I have been subjected to a “team-building exercise” where I was bound by duct tape to my VP (long story!) But I do think there is value to it, if done properly. It allows new members to assimilate and catch up with existing dynamics. It gives your team a much-needed half hour to recharge and recuperate. Whether you, as the team leader, participate or not depends on many circumstances. What is important is that any time spent building team cooperation should translate to tangible results in the work place (increased productivity, better team work, etc.)
Leaders are not made overnight. Strong, confident, and effective leadership happens when you practice these skills consistently and implement them every day. Please feel free to reach out with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.