Long before becoming a parent I recognized that one of the great crucibles for character and leader development was caring for children, especially young children.
I watched smart, gifted, talented people get swallowed up in the great abyss of late night feedings, potty training and temper tantrums. They learned practical leadership through serving their children.
Now that I’ve joined the thriving-though-sleep-deprived ranks, here are a few of my observations on how my toddler is helping me grow as a leader:
1. Eye Contact: “Eyes on Mommy.”
Toddlers experience the world through all of their senses, all the time. But sometimes that can feel overwhelming or distracting. So when my daughter starts to melt down, we make time for eye contact.
Turning your face towards someone when they speak demonstrates respect, care and interest in what they have to say. It shows that they are valuable and important enough to interrupt your project, and it emphasizes that the conversation is more important than a myriad of distractions.
2. Slow down: “Take a belly breath.”
Toddlers learn constantly and practice independence. In the effort to “do it myself,” frustration can overtake them.
At work it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by looming deadlines. But sometimes the best remedy is a deep breath and a step back for perspective. Then you can collect your thoughts, put on your thinking cap and consider other solutions.
3. Listen: “Where are your listening ears?”
With emotions and new information assaulting their little minds all the time, toddlers have a hard time focusing on tasks and directions as they learn to make good decisions.
When leading others, it’s imperative to hear beyond the syntax into the heart of the matter. What’s the message behind the words? The natural default is to “tell” versus hearing people out. When we do that, we focus on crafting a response rather than listening to what someone else says. And that tends to shut down communication. So let’s put on our listening ears.
4. Compassion: “That sounds like an owie!”
Bumps and bruises are a natural part of a toddler’s life. Snuggling together through the tears then kissing away the boo-boos makes a huge difference to the emotional health of a little one.
Sometimes a hug is the best remedy for an owie, and while that might not be appropriate in the workplace, you can empathize and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. People aren’t always looking to others to solve their problems; sometimes they just want to know they are cared for.
5. Simplify: Set Realistic Goals. “What is our adventure today?”
Cramming too many activities into a day can make both parent and toddler miserable, especially when naps are missed. So we limit our daily activities to help ensure happy hearts at home.
Simplifying objectives and embracing reality can result in freedom at work. What is the top priority for the week? What one thing must be done today? What pace can we set at work that is sustainable long term?
Sarah has learned these and other great leadership lessons in the daily squeeze of parenting. She lives in New York City with her husband and 2.5 year old daughter. She is a leadership coach and an infrequent blogger.
Photo courtesy of the author’s private collection.