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Leadership Lessons From a 4-Year-Old

jlbworks | June 2, 2017

Sometimes the small things create the biggest opportunities for leaders

Enter any bookstore or explore Google for books on leadership development and you’ll quickly find yourself immersed with lessons dripping in wisdom and sage advice from the establishment. I, myself, often find leadership lessons from the day-to-day interactions many of us experience personally and professionally. I don’t know about you, but the available leadership lessons are not in short supply – often our inability to recognize them, in the moment, is our collective challenge.

As we are making the drive home from preschool, I am listening to the escalating conversation between my children. It goes a little like this:

2-year-old: “I made a picture of Nemo”

4-year-old: “No you didn’t!! I know you didn’t!”

2-year-old: “YES I DID…YES I DID”

4-year-old: “No you didn’t (pause) “YOU DON’T know anything!”

As the volume intensified, I knew I had to step in. I asked my 4-year-old how do you know what your sister did or did not do?

4-year-old: “I did not see her draw Nemo”

Me: Is it possible that she could have done what she said even though you did not see her or that she knows something you do not?

4-year-old: I know she didn’t. I know everything. She doesn’t know anything!

Me: Well honey, here is the thing. No one knows everything and everyone knows something!

After a few more rounds of this, he begrudgingly accepted my attempt to expand his thinking of his sister’s intellect.

During the last few moments of the drive, I could not help but chuckle at the irony between my mom role and my professional role as an executive coach. Many of the high performing leaders that I work with seem to face this very same concept. Of course the argument is presented in more complex and sometimes ambiguous terms.

Let’s examine how the same conversation might sound like in an office near you:

“That department, team or individual just doesn’t get it”

“I inherited a team that isn’t willing to change”

“Why don’t they just do what I said or highly recommended?”

Many times an unconscious thread of “ I know everything and they don’t know anything” is floating under the surface. The leader’s attempt to move forward encompasses an attempt to tell, advise or coerce the other party to see it the way they do and in their mind “the right and only way” to proceed.

As an executive coach, this type of dialogue is a sign of a leader that is stuck, frustrated and ultimately unsure of how best to influence others. It is at this point that the focus shifts to building awareness around patterns of thinking and the value of curiosity. In others words, to value and act upon the premise that “No one knows everything and everyone knows something.”

To learn more about leadership development strategies to make this shift for yourself or for someone in your organization connect with me directly or via LinkedIn.

Christie Berger, executive coach Nashville, partners with organizations to support the learning initiatives of its executives and high-potential leaders through customized individual leadership coaching and team coaching engagements.