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Leadership in Action: Three-Year-Old Style

Greetings all, today after work I shifted identities to become Mommy, and I went to the children’s museum that’s close to where we live. I must comment on my experience for you my dear readers. May it at least give you a laugh.

Let’s put this into context – during the day I had been on two phone calls with leaders of different organizations, both who were feeling tentative about being too directive with their teams.

Here are some verbatims: “I’m really concerned that if I get too directive I’ll lose them.” “They take advantage of how nice I am and walk all over me. I thought if I expected high performance they would live up to my expectations, and now I feel like the executioner.” “They don’t want to hear from me that they need to change direction – they’re burnt out and they can’t take another order.”

I walk into the children’s “museum”, which is basically a free-for-all with about 35 or maybe even 50 toddlers running from area to area playing with toddler sized cars, toddler sized workbenches with toddler-sized hammers, toddler sized lego tables and toddler sized trees with fake fruit to pick, you get the idea.

My lovely and just-learning-to-speak daughter walked through the door, grabbed my hand and said “PAINTING” (or “pennin!” if you want the more realistic version) and pulled me toward the art room, which is filled with low tables covered in crayons, paints, pens, paper, and safety scissors. Bored Polish and Russian nannies are talking on their cellphones in the corners of the room, and harried looking moms and dads are snapping scissors away or drawing quietly or chatting with their broods. It’s the end of the day – what can I say.

One little beacon of light (I believe her name is Madeline) of the three-and-a-half-year-old variety, was commanding a relatively large audience at one of five tables. Four other girls seemed to be hanging on her every word as she described how to color a rocket ship and put stickers on it.

Now if you are used to watching groups of toddlers it is rare that they pay attention to one another for very long, particularly when no one is taking anything away from anyone else. But Madeline had this POWER.  What struck me was that she was directing the other kids with a level of confidence my leader colleagues would have envied. They would color, and she would calmly show them how they should be doing it in a steady, loud voice of complete and utter authority.  “Give me the scissors” she said in the most matter of fact way, and they all did one by one as if they were dancing in a water ballet! Nicely done!

What if we just believed completely that everyone was going to hang on our every word? What if we were convinced that what we have to say is really the be-all end-all? We might be just as successful at gathering a band of attention span challenged colleagues around us to really listen, and actually take directions. Just a thought.

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