Looking to level up your leadership but fancy a respite from a new leadership theory or model? Here is some inspiration from our small but mighty role models.
Toddlers are natural leaders – they have charisma, confidence, decisiveness, and they inspire followership. The more time I spend with my two-year-old, the more certain I am that parenting provides some of the best personal and professional development opportunities in town. Not only do we learn new skills (negotiation, patience, metaphorical and literal juggling…) parents have a welcome reminder that we have some ‘unlearning’ to do.
On our route to adulthood and progressing into leadership roles, we pick up habits, survival strategies and narratives. Some of these serve us, providing skills, nuance and insights. For example, self-regulation and empathy are really very useful and I am not advocating that we unlearn all our mature ways of being.
However, some of the ‘grown up’ ways of thinking (e.g. limiting beliefs, self-flagellation, humdrum ideas of success and being ruled by ‘shoulds’) sabotage us and distract us from our authentic selves. Here are three ways we may improve our leadership, by acting a bit more like a toddler:
1. Ask “why?”
A toddler will ask ‘why?’ and will keep asking why. They won’t be satisfied by “because I said so” or run of the mill explanations and this is true for our teams, colleagues and clients too.
Often, we jump to the actions and the process “the what” and the “how”. However, we humans are innately concerned with “the why”. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle Theory explains that leaders and organisations differentiate themselves, and attract more success, when they start with ‘why’ you do what you do oppose to “what” you do and “how” you do it. As a leader, knowing what your purpose is creates momentum, loyalty, and more success.
Toddlers have a true enquiry mindset, an attribute they share with great leaders. When I am asked the seventh “why mummy?” I can find it a bit flustering but that’s often because I have to actually think – dust off some science or properly consider my response.
This (sometimes relentless) questioning approach can be helpful for leaders when understanding problems and learning from them. For example, Toyota’s Five Why Technique – when a problem happens, you find its root cause by asking “Why?” five times. From this counter-measures are uncovered and implemented to stop the problem from reoccurring. Don’t be afraid to look deeper, if you have a problem to solve or are in need of a creative solution, follow a toddler’s lead and keep asking ‘why’, it might uncover something unexpected.
2. Making connections
Making eye contact and smiling, asking questions (‘what’s your favourite colour/dinosaur?’) and sharing an interest (‘look at my toy/ car’), toddlers show us that networking is actually pretty straight forward.
Show interest in others without any particular agenda
Share what’s important to you.
Leadership is all about relationships and making connections opens up more possibilities.
3. Appreciate the everyday
I have so many pebbles in my living room it is probably better defined as an indoor rockery. My daughter is delighted when she finds a good rock. To her each one is precious, should be admired and has the potential for friendship or craft.
In our leadership roles, when we are tasked with big targets and multiple demands, we can dismiss the small things. It’s easy to forget to celebrate getting over a small hump when there is a mountain left to climb. However, for ourselves and our teams, recognising progress, showing gratitude and looking for the potential in the everyday is a really powerful and motivational practice.
We all know leaders who demonstrate some of the less desirable toddler-esque traits. For example, brutal feedback or quadrupling the amount of time and energy needed to get something done.
Please do be selective when looking to toddlers for your leadership inspiration. They can veer into authoritarianism, and we don’t need more of this in modern leadership!
This article was written by Emma Gill, one of Careering into Motherhood’s Partner Coaches. Emma provides career and confidence coaching for individual clients and works with organisations to help them to create more inclusive, supportive workplaces. She offers free discovery calls for prospective clients.
July 31, 2023