What a 2-Year Old is Teaching Me About Leadership

January 18, 2017

What a 2-Year Old is Teaching Me About Leadership

There are many avenues for improving your leadership. Books, podcasts, seminars, conferences, the list is endless. I recently came across a new resource; one that came somewhat unexpectedly - my 2-year old grandson.

My wife and I raised sons so we are totally comfortable in the world of boys and our grandson is no different. He is energetic, inquisitive, precocious, and a constant source of new adventures, in other words, he is all boy.

Beyond the joy a grandson brings, I came to a realization recently while spending some time with him. As much as I’m the adult in the relationship, he too is teaching and reinforcing in me some valuable reminders, especially about leadership. Here they are,

Be All In

    Distractions are just that, distractions. When you’re with a 2-year old, you’ve got to be all there. Drop your guard for just a moment and the little guy could get into who knows what? It’s interesting that no matter how busy my day, when I know my grandson is coming I know its going to mean some focused time and attention.

    The same is true in leadership. It’s easy to get distracted, and forget what’s right there in front of you. If you are future-oriented like me, you’re thinking of the next step, the next meeting, and the next goal, whatever. These can often serve as distractions and keep you from focusing on the present and being all in.

    Process and Patience are Related

      Patience can sometimes be in short supply, especially with a 2-year old. As an adult I can jump to certain outcomes and expectations far easier than a child. Kids need structure, order, discipline, and not continual chaos. Change does not always come easy.

      Moving a child’s development forward takes patience. Likewise, embracing the process that brings healthy change fosters a spirit of patience. Enjoying where you are as much as how far you’ve come will often make the process more enjoyable. Most visionary leaders love change, and for the most part are typically impatient.

      They see where things need to go and get frustrated by all the handholding and continual prodding they have to do to bring others along. Honoring the process also makes the end more rewarding. It’s how a child grows and develops and becomes shaped by the changes that are part of the process.

      Most people are uncomfortable with change but walking them patiently through the process is one of a leader’s greatest gifts. The next point builds on this one.

      Play is Valuable On It's Own

        My grandson loves building blocks and we can spend hours creating castles, towers, and every kind of architectural structure. I usually ask him what we’re building and he’ll tell me. So we build. No formal blueprints, no aggressive step-by-step instructions, just build.

        We know what we want to see in the end, but the joy of building something together, that has both of us contributing to the end result is a wonderful experience. The same could be said for the goals we set. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t set goals or create comprehensive plans, just don’t miss the joy of building something and the lessons learned along the way.

        When my grandson and I are building a majestic tower, he sometimes stops to ponder what has been built so far. Rushing him to finish doesn’t help his development or his creative inquiry. Not only that, but the entire experience is play! Not just the end or the beginning or any other isolated part. It’s all play and every step of the process has something of value to a young growing mind.

        Repeating Yourself is Not All Bad

          Ever had to repeat your-self to a 2-year old? Most of the time we think its because they are being defiant. Another reason is that they simply may not understand. At times I’ve found myself saying the same thing but in a different way, in an attempt to clarify what I mean.

          We hear all the time about the importance of communication. Whether it’s our personal or professional lives the need for clarity is vital. I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years as a communicator, both in the pulpit and in the classroom, and it still surprises me how many times the important lessons or values need to be repeated.

          What You Model Gets Mimicked

            Amazing how quickly children pick up habits, both good and bad. Not that you want to appear fake or unnatural (see point 8 below), but I do find myself being cautious of what I model. Children are so impressionable, and you want them to model habits that are healthy. There’s an adage that says, as a leadership goes so goes the organization.

            As leaders we help create the culture and the habits that help shape and define the churches and organizations we lead. Often, the burden of our leadership falls more on what we model versus what we say. Further, the habits that get rewarded get repeated. So, what are we modeling for others to mimic?

            There’s One All-Important Question

              Our grandson is at the stage where the most prevalent question is Why? This often leads to interesting discussions and wonderful teaching moments. Why is one of the most vital questions any leader can ask. It helps define your core values, reasons for existence and why you do what you do.

              Without a well-defined why, you will lack the ability to inspire others. Its not just about services and products, people are looking for something more, something inspirational that moves and motivates them. For a great resource on this check out Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why.

              The Value of Safe Space

                I love the innocence and trust that resides in a small child. Our grandson knows that he is deeply loved and we would never allow any harm to come to him. He loves to jump from the bed into my arms and does so without reservation or fear. He feels totally safe. How safe are people with your leadership? Do you create an environment of safety or of fear?

                A culture of fear stifles creativity, promotes distrust, and fosters unhealthy competitiveness. A safe environment on the other hand allows people to blossom in their role. Mistakes are moments of learning and growing not opportunities to leverage judgment and condemnation. Trust is an important commodity for a leader and one way of fostering trust is by creating an environment of safety. The next point flows from this one.

                Honesty is liberating

                  There are no pretenses with a young child. No posturing or faking it till you make it. It’s real, honest, and frankly quite liberating. As noted above, a safe place soon becomes an environment for honesty. People feel like they belong and their contributions matter.

                  One of the great difficulties, especially in church ministry is doing honest assessments of what is working versus what is not. Without a place where you can honestly evaluate you continue to allow programs to exist that have long run their course and effectiveness. And you can never build something beyond where you are if you are unwilling to be honest about your present reality. It often starts there.

                  Time with my grandson is reinforcing some great lessons on leadership. I hope these will help you in whatever capacity you lead to be a better and more productive leader."

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