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Leadership lessons we can learn from children

What we can learn from children?

My younger daughter, who was “just” born, will start school this calendar year. I’ve been recently pondering on the fact that our kids grow fast. They don’t only grow but also learn a lot. However, we – parents – also grow with them. Every member of the family, despite the age, level of growth and development, they always give something to others. What parents and leaders can learn from children?

Kids learn because they don’t have a choice. Everything is new for them, and most of the things are to be faced for the first time, handled, and in the end – mastered. However, the wise grown-up should also learn all the time, all life long. What’s more, we as adults can also learn from the youngest members of our families. Today I invite you for a coffee journey where I am going to share what I have learnt from my little treasures. Lessons there are surprisingly relevant. 

Living in a moment

Sometimes, I am under the impression that children operate in particular time dimension. I would call it very-much-present tense. The skill and ability to enjoy the moment is just a default setting for them. I will illustrate it with a short story. 

Generally, we try to spend every weekend doing something outside our house. On one particular weekend, we planned to visit a lovely place. One of these farms, where you have animals outside, soft play inside and many attractions for youngsters in every age. We all waited for this visit. 

The day came, we – parents – were bustling about, preparing food, packing stuff and so on. At some point, we were ready to go to have anticipated and awaited big fun. And to our surprise, my junior announced that he wouldn’t go, because he was playing with his firefighter truck. It was his new fascination, and he was just in very-present tense. 

He didn’t care about having fun on the farm anymore. What is vital in situations like this; we cannot break it. We have to adopt. In this particular scenario, I played with him for a moment, and we agreed to go and take care of a big fire on the farm. It worked. Eventually, we had a great time that Saturday. 

As adults, we learn how to plan the future and how to draw conclusions from the past. It is, of course, very needed skill. However, for many of us – grown-ups – constant planning and never-ending pondering, become an unhealthy obsession.  

One of the reasons that we do not feel happy is the fact that we lost the ability to live in the present moment. We are anxious about what happened in the past, or we are worried about what will happen in the future. We’re not able to change what happened yesterday, and we can’t predict what will happen tomorrow. So, what’s the point then? 

We can learn a lot from children when they play. It’s their all world. It’s worth to share this moment and perception of their world. It will help us to plug into our “now”. To enjoy more whatever we are doing. It also helps to revisit, if what I am doing now, still brings me joy?  

Asking questions

We all know that three years old children are masters of throwing questions around. Sometimes we lose patience to answer supposedly the same question over and over again. We become impatient when we face variations of the same question being asked one after another. 

However, there is a method in this madness. We should be thankful to our kids, listen more, learn and improve. Instead of complaining, shooting shallow statements, or even rejecting to answer – we should start to train our patience, active listening and skill of forming better answers. 

Asking the right questions is not easy, primarily if we work with people. Asking the questions that inspire, elevate and make people grow, it’s an art. We desire this skill in management, and this is what sorts good from great leaders. As we grow and become adults, we become more politically correct, and in time we allow ourselves to unlearn asking right questions. Maybe we become more lazy and content to shallow answers? We are satisfied with answers and viewpoints given us by others. And this is the best path to become a conformist. 

Asking the right questions is essential to our children in the cognitive and creative process. We should never cross someone out because of the quantity or quality of the queries they ask. It applies to our relationship with children – they are just learning and have the right to require us to be heard. And this also applies to adults. We should learn from children: “there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers”.

Some people are good at asking the right questions. All good mentors and coaches have this skill mastered. Some great leaders practice this skill and even make it their everyday tool to run businesses. Ricardo Semler is one of them. He took over a company and started restructuring it. In the beginning, he introduced just one new rule to be followed by everyone from the machine operator in factory to executive director. 

The rule was – you need to ask three times “why” to question all procedures in our company. As he described – the effects were just amazing. The majority of procedures in the factory didn’t survive this 3x why probe. And here is just a funny example he gave:

  • Why are you sprinkling sawdust on the floor? 
  • Because it’s slippery.
  • Why is the floor slippery?
  • Because the leaking oil is dropping on the floor.
  • Why is the oil leaking to the floor?
  • Because the gasket in this mechanism is leaking.

Learning all the time

If we wanted to point just one thing that we can learn from children, that would be how to learn. Kids don’t have a choice; they need to learn non-stop. They start quite early – in the belly of their mummies in the prenatal period. Then, it is a real marathon for them for next days, weeks and months. I’ve recently wondered when it ends. 

When we become so “learned” that we stop looking for new things? When we are so educated that we just settle on our laurels? Is it high school, GCSE, university? Maybe it is a certificate that gives us job security? 

I think the problem is more in the approach than in the learning process itself. Somewhere along the way, we lose the joy of learning and begin to separate these two things – getting knowledge and enjoyment. It may be because education is compulsory in most of the counties in the world. 

The education system is based in XIX century assumptions; we “have to” learn things that we see as unnecessary. All of this creates artificial division between learning and gathering knowledge process and on other side – playfulness, joy and happiness. Does this separation need to exist? 

Children (I should add – small children) do not have this problem. They treat everything as fun, and that’s why they learn everything so quickly. By engaging both cerebral hemispheres in their brains, they absorb knowledge so rapidly form the first days. That is why wise educators, including parents, use this “method” of learning through the playing. 

What can we learn from this? Let’s start doing more things that bring us satisfaction and joy. Maybe this should be the main criteria when next time we decide what we would like to learn. Let’s think more about what would be the next book to read. Spend some time to think of what would be the topic of the upcoming course that we would like to take online. 

Lessons learned during this coffee journey

  • We should always learn, we should be open to every opportunity. There are some excellent lessons we can learn from children. 
  • As adults, we tend to dig into the past or overthink the future. We will find solitude when we learn how to live in a moment. 
  • We should not be offended when someone is querying too much. 
  • Learning should never end. To be more effective in learning, we should not only absorb the knowledge, but also employ all senses during the cognitive process. 
  • As leaders we should never be afraid of asking questions, challenge the status quo and in general, be curious about the world.

I wonder what you have recently learnt and what brought you joy? Have you thought about the fact we can learn from children? 


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