Can we be honest for a second? In many areas of life, we are no better than children. Especially when it comes to communication. I have had many communication “failures” in my career, but no one has challenged my words the way my 5-year-old has. And my 2-year-old? Well, let’s just say I have never felt more intimidated by a toddler than when I ask her to please not throw her dinner on the floor. Real talk aside, our kids can teach us so much about ourselves, life, and, yes, even leadership.
Consider the following ways we can learn from children.
- Stay Curious
Have you ever spent time with a toddler? Almost every sentence starts or ends with “why”? It’s a genuine curiosity. They are trying to understand how everything works. Why can’t they bite their siblings? Why do we need to put our seatbelts on? Why does Mommy need privacy in the bathroom? I would love to say that I’m a perfectly patient parent. If I am being honest, when my toddler went through the “why” phase, my first inclination was to MAKE. IT. STOP. At first, I would answer every question, even if I did not know the correct answer. After a week of that, I would find myself staring at him blankly because I was exhausted from explaining why we do the simplest tasks. Eventually, I realized I didn’t want to crush his imagination or curiosity with my annoyed behavior. I decided to turn the question back on him. I began saying, “I don’t know, why do you think?” Which elicited so many creative, funny, and adorable reasons…and gave me a much-needed break from needing to provide all the answers.
Often as leaders, we want to rush to answer the question. We want to be the all-knowing guide. We don’t create enough space for curiosity from ourselves or our team. The reality is we don’t know it all, and we don’t have all the answers. We are also crushing creativity if we eliminate that space to be curious. As leaders, we set the standard for how the team operates. We have the opportunity to invite curiosity and, therefore, creativity through intentional practice.
Try: Next time someone asks a question, lead with curiosity instead of giving your first answer! Listening fully to what the person on the other end has to say. Try using language like “Tell me more” (a la Brene Brown) or “I don’t know, what do you think.” Sometimes, the person asking the question may even come to their own conclusion, which is where the real magic lies.
- Simple is Better
When I communicate with my kids, I know I have about 6 seconds before they get distracted by anything else. So when I need to explain a complicated subject to them, I must break it down into the simplest form. I have to be purposeful with my word choice and make them care. It’s not enough to say, “You have to do…” I have to appeal to what matters to them and get to the point quickly.
In the same way, we tend to overcomplicate things with our teams. We walk into our meetings and just word vomit all over people instead of carefully crafting the simplest form of our message. We don’t actually think about how to communicate with our team effectively, and we run the risk of making something simple sound complicated. Think about how many meetings you are in where you think, “What’s the point? Why should I care?” We have all been guilty of this. In order to gain buy-in from your listener, you have to make them care.
Try: Next time you lead a meeting, consider what your audience needs to know. And why should they care? Need help preparing a truly effective message? Take a Decker Course!
- Don’t Be Afraid To Create
My kids LOVE to color. We have a whole area of our house dedicated to crafts. There’s a section for paper, five different types of coloring utensils (markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc.), and a spot for painting materials. Any time of day, the kids grab some paper and start drawing. When they draw, they don’t care what colors they use, where they are coloring in relation to the paper, or whether or not I will like their drawing. They sit down, grab a color and do their thing. I love watching them be creative.
When did we stop creating? When did we start worrying about staying in the lines and following the protocol? I’m a process person, so I love structure. But sometimes we can get too caught up in “how we always do things,” and we don’t leave room for other options. So many people I coach love to give me the excuse that they aren’t a leader because they don’t lead a team, or the team they lead is small, or they got the promotion by accident during layoffs. I will often challenge that narrative. You have the opportunity to be a leader. In your home, community, or your office of 5 or 5,000. You can be the person that isn’t limited by culture or the “lines” set before you. You have the power to explore. Start creating again. Let yourself draw new shapes, use different color patterns, and get a little crazy.
Try: Take a small risk, like starting the team meeting differently than your colleagues or implementing a new weekly ritual. Notice how it feels to be different than the status quo. You might find that you get told to go back to coloring inside the lines or influence other people to do the same. That’s leading.