Thoughts on Leadership As Told to a 5 Year Old

I am lucky enough to be a father to a wonderful 5-year-old daughter, fresh into her Kindergarten year of school. Recently she came home with the dramatic cry of a 5-year-old, upset that her class has a Leader of the Month award and she didn’t win it. Once the sobbing subsided she got around to asking me how to be a leader, one of those basics of life type questions that all parents know and yet always get thrown by. How do I boil down the essence of leadership to something she not only can understand but can apply herself?

Thanks to the reoccurring themes of Special Agent Oso I got the idea to try to condense leadership to 3 simple steps. Simplistic I know, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that not only would it get her on the right track but that, to be honest, there are a great number of adults in leadership positions that experience differing levels of success with them. So thanks to my daughter and our good friend Oso I present Jim’s 3 simple steps to being a good leader.

Step 1! Have A Good Attitude

Seriously, there are so many studies/articles on the effect that a leader’s public attitude has on the productivity and efficiency of their team. If those linked articles aren’t enough for you Google it, there are a lot more. I know we all have our days when it all falls apart and have experienced these myself, but when those days stretch into weeks or months that team you are leading or even being a part of is going to start to fall apart as well. Some days it is going to require you to put a good face on what you are internally feeling, but coming in with a bounce in your step and not being negative is a great first step.

One of the realizations that I’ve had recently is that with any position there comes a time when you have to decide to either have some internal reconciliation with the job you have and make peace with the issues you have with it or decide to make the jump to something new. I’m not saying you should try to make the things you dislike better, you absolutely should, but staying in something you actively dislike and have lost the willpower to try to fix not only hurts you it hurts those around you.

Step 2! Listen

So for a 5-year-old trying to get them to listen to anything that isn’t on Netflix or YouTube is a challenge. Guess what? The same is true for me and you and those around you in the workplace from time to time. As framed to her, listening means making sure you pay attention not only to your teachers when they talk (and you absolutely must do this) but also to those around you that may be having issues. The teacher is talking about how to make the perfect “R” but your neighbor is having a problem? If she’s got it down this is a great opportunity to help!

As this applies to us how many of us go into meetings or conversations with our co-workers with a preset agenda or outcome of it already in our mind? Worse still is when we try to find the implied meaning of what is unsaid in a conversation. We as workers and leaders do better when we open our minds and actually listen to the words that are being spoken, then ask for clarification as needed. I know I have to work hard to quit relying on my own biases or trying to guess what the speaker means simply because we don’t want to ask “Ok, I didn’t get that, can you expand on this?”

Step 3! Apply What You’ve Learned

As we complete our journey through leadership we need have to apply what we’ve learned in the first two steps. We’ve spent the last 20 minutes learning how to make that perfect “R” and now we have to practice in class. My 2.0 may have this down, but she see’s her neighbor is trying to get help from the teacher. With a great attitude and an understanding of what’s expected this is her time to shine and help out her classmate!

At work this is important too. We have a great attitude now and we really want to be a helper, getting things done, and we’ve listened to those around us and learned not only about the needs and processes of our organizations but also the needs of our co-workers and staff. With all this ammo we are now in a position to truly make a difference because regardless of who you are helping when the knowledge gets distributed the potential for greater outcomes goes up. For those of us in traditional IT or other “support departments” this is where the true value lies. If we can’t learn, interpret and apply technology to the organization and staff’s needs then we aren’t supporting anyone.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Yes I know it’s simple, yes I know there are other factors (ego, time management, etc) that go into it as well but as in all things, you have to master the basics first. How many of you that have made it to this point were shaking your head and considering interactions with others as you read them? How many read these and had a “doh” thought about something you yourself have done? I know I did in thinking about it and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you learn from it.

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