Lots of New Year’s resolutions are circulating out there – some of which will be hard to keep, or even remember. So to help with bite-size changes that can add up over time and have significant impacts, we wanted to share lessons from the upcoming second edition of Don’t Forget Your Cape! What Preschoolers Teach Us About Leadership and Life. For each month of the year, here are easy and useful lessons from the preschoolers:
January: Ask “Why”?
Three year-olds ask why, and they ask it a lot. That’s because they want to learn. In January, follow the principle of the “five why’s” and ask why roughly five times when addressing an issue or opportunity. That way you get to the underlying root cause or genuine insight, and not just the surface issue.
February: Be Creative.
Too many people and organizations see creativity as the domain of ad agencies and graphic designers. It isn’t. Creativity is the driver of all innovation – especially boring stuff like process innovation which, by the way, can be the source of huge cost savings, profitable opportunities, or things that just make people’s lives easier. My definition for creativity: One idea, plus another unrelated idea, equals a new idea. It’s that simple.
March: Take Smart Risks.
From learning to walk to figuring out how to ride a bike, little kids take smart risks all the time. That’s one way they figure out how to succeed in the world around them. There isn’t enough smart risk-taking going on in today’s organizations. And only when people take risks can organizations grow and improve. Make March your month to step beyond the comfort zone and take a smart risk. Only when we are outside our comfort zones to we grow and learn.
April: Take one step backwards, and then two steps forwards.
Often when dealing with preschoolers, you need to undo what had felt like progress before you can achieve your real objective. Same is true in organizations. It is against our nature to undo what we’ve already finished, but it can be the most productive way to get better results. In April, ban managing by ‘to do’ list, and replace it by leading through achievement of results.
This is one where the preschoolers have it wrong: they hate to share. Make a point of creating a culture within your team of being generous with your time, talent, information, and resources. That internal generosity is ultimately best for your key stakeholders and shareholders, whomever they may be. And while you are at it, weed out any direct or indirect incentives that discourage sharing among teams or departments. Many well-meaning incentive systems have ultimately led to too much hoarding and internal fighting within organizations. It’s time to get rid of those incentive systems. Make May “sharing month”.
June: Play Games
Preschool and Kindergarten teachers are really good at getting little kids to do productive things by turning tasks into games. We can learn from this. Think about how can you increase productivity, improve compliance, or make boring tasks more fun through ‘gamification’. You don’t need expensive software or a complex tracking system to do so. Sometimes the cheesier you make the points system or award for being the most successful – the better.
July: Celebrate Achievement
Little kids celebrate all the time. And celebration is encouraged within preschools – especially when someone does the right thing or helps another person. We need more celebration today, so make July ‘Celebration Month’ – and make a big deal of it when people go the extra mile, or help someone else out.
August: Don’t be Afraid to Fail
There is way too much fear of failure in today’s organizations. Risk management departments are out of control – quelling innovation, fresh thinking and creativity to such an extent that they are creating business risks in and of themselves. That’s because other organizations without overly strict legal or risk management departments come along with cool ideas and innovations that customers like better. And the efforts to manage risk become bigger than the business goals they were originally intended to support, and organizations collapse under the weight of their own legal and risk management rules. So don’t seek to fail, but don’t be afraid of failure.
September: Remember to ‘take a deep breath and use words’
‘Take a deep breath and use words’ is an actual quote I heard from a preschool teacher who was dealing with a particularly hysterical two-year old at the daycare where my son went. I think that ‘take a deep breath and use words’ is enlightened thinking and wise counsel. There is too much uncooperative and passive-aggressive behaviour in today’s workplace. So this September, when you encounter someone acting like a two-year old in the workplace, see their behavior for what it is. Don’t react with equal and opposite aggression in the moment. Take that deep breath, and when the time is right, ask them if everything is okay. Because if their actions are particularly bad, there is a chance that things that have nothing to do with your work and they are not okay.
October: Have a Vision and Communicate it Relentlessly.
When change is going to happen in a preschool – such as a kid moving from one room to another – the teachers build anticipation, talk about how awesome it is going to be, and create a sense of excitement around what’s to come. And they use the same themes, ideas, and words time after time. As teachers – they get bored of the same message. But each new kid is hearing it for the first time. So have an exciting and galvanizing vision for the future you and your organization are trying to create – and this October start to communicate that vision relentlessly. It might feel like ‘Ground Hog Day’ from your perspective – repeating the same thing over and over again – but it is new and fresh and requires repetition for your audience.
November: Remember that the Shortest Distance Between Point A and Point B, Isn’t Necessarily a Straight Line
As parents of little kids can attest, rarely can you get kids dressed, fed, into winter clothes, bags packed, and out the door into properly-installed car seats without something going wrong or taking you off track. Such a process is rarely straightforward or military in its precision. You need to build in time for unexpected diaper changes or spills on clean clothes, let alone some kid throwing up on the floor just as you are about to get them out the door. The same principle applies to project management. So in November, remember to build in time for unexpected complications, time to consult and create buy-in, and time for opportunities that might present themselves along the way. Feeling or being rushed rarely works, and certainly makes the journey a lot harder.
December: Be a Superhero
When one of our kids used to put on his superhero cape, his physical posture improved, his language skills changed, and you could tell that there was no good deed that he felt he could not accomplish. If a cheap piece of felt can have that kind of an impact on a three year-old, then why can’t the rest of us simply remember that we too can be superheroes? And this isn’t about major achievements – it is about doing those little things every day that add up to having a huge impact. So in December, be a superhero. And deliver on the promise of who you could become.
By: Hugh MacPhie