Recently, I was cleaning out my home office and found my two favorite boxes. You know the ones. The named box that holds all the school treasures for each child– the first spelling test, the painted hand prints, the popcorn garland, the red yarn “necklace” strung with hard noodles that was a much-loved Mother’s Day gift. As I slowly looked through my oldest son’s memory box, I came upon his preschool “rule book” complete with hand-drawn pictures of what my son believed each rule to mean. I thumbed through the pages and giggled at the phrases, then suddenly stopped and looked at my bookshelf. Wow. The stack of leadership books I just shelved, paled in comparison to the innocent wisdom of these pages.
Rule 1: You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.
I think we’ve all been there. The numbers come up short and everyone’s walking into the quarterly meeting, dreading what will unfold. The fearless leader stands up in front of the room, and while the intention is to confront facts and motivate the team to drive better performance, (s)he begins to lose it. A full-blown tantrum, complete with whining, pacing, flailing arms, booming voice, and veiled threats. This tactic, while sometimes effective at getting everyone to sit up a little straighter out of fear, does not motivate or inspire. I’ve yet to see perfection in performance 100% of the time. At some point there will be disappointment. And when it happens, keep it together.
Rule 2: Spelling is FUN!
Ok, spelling isn’t that fun, but it IS important. Yes, we all have spell check on every device known to man, but nothing throws off your brand more than when a C-level executive is excitedly jotting notes on giant post-it paper and writes “our company principals” in bold black marker for all the world to see. Not good. People want to follow capable individuals and this one small misstep can erode some of that confidence. Think ahead. If you’re not sure, pick another word. It matters.
Rule 3: No Biting – Use Your Words
The first time my son came home with bite marks on his arm, I immediately called his preschool teacher as I (like most parents) was very concerned. She explained that some young children struggle with expressing themselves when they’re frustrated, so they communicate by biting instead.
Ahh yes. So very relevant. I may not actually sink my incisors into your forearm, but I’ve had moments as a leader when I’ve been questioned, felt defensive, and have thrown a cutting remark or sharp criticism to deflect the real issue at hand. Much like actually biting someone, it works every time and promptly stops whatever conversation or action upset me. The unintended (or very intended) result of that behavior is that people will change how they interact with you. They’ll only have “safe” conversations that won’t upset you as they don’t want to risk experiencing that sting again. To overcome these defensive responses, it takes practice and someone to hold you accountable. It’s imperative to be intentional about this. If you don’t, trust will erode and pretty soon you’ll be much like the little biting preschooler on the playground—alone.
Rule 4: Criss-cross applesauce, hands in your lap
Imagine this: We all stagger into our Monday morning meeting, make a beeline to the big, thick rug in the middle of the room, where we make a circle, sit cross-legged, fold our hands in our lap, and focus genuinely and intently on whoever is talking. Not a bad way to start the week.
This idea of being fully present in the moment is not new. Everyone is talking about it. I believe it’s because as leaders, we are terrible at this. You’ve experienced it, I’ve experienced it. Many of us do it daily. Our people ask to meet with us, and throughout the meeting, we’re giving our computer screens the side-eye, looking at our buzzing phones, all the while telling whoever we’re with to “keep going, I’m listening” as the minutes pass by. It’s not about whether we can or can’t multi-task. There are a million articles about that and this is not one of them. It’s about what we’re communicating to whoever we’re with. The message is loud and clear: the person sitting in front of us is less important than whatever could possibly be occurring in our email, text, slack, etc. Close the laptop, turn your chair around, find a couch, empty your pockets. Do whatever it takes to eliminate distraction to fully connect with the person in front of you.
As I thumbed through the rest of the pages showing “please” and “thank you,” sharing toys, washing hands, and taking turns, I noticed that each page, while different, clearly visualized the result of adhering to the “class rule” it described: teachers, parents, and children, in all shapes and sizes, proudly displaying big, wide-lined, toothy grins. If we as leaders take time to reconnect with some of these simple, yet poignant ideas, we will create space for more creativity, focus, trust, and yes…smiles.
Christine Rogers is the Head of Sales & Marketing at Y Scouts. She believes that crafting a perfect match between purpose-driven organizations and passionate, capable individuals to lead them, is transformative. It not only impacts the individuals they serve, but has a rippling effect that touches families, communities, and our economy.
Y Scouts is a purpose-aligned, performance-proven leadership search and development firm focused on transforming how people and organizations connect to work that matters. When you’re ready to hire a new leader, Contact Y Scouts. If you are looking for your next leadership role within a purpose-driven, performance-focused organization, please join the Y Scouts Leadership Community.