Childlike leadershipMar 11, 2020 2020-10-05 8:47
As a mother of two small children under three I am often reminded of the joy of youth and the innately beautiful qualities of tiny humans. Recently this has me thinking, what would be possible if we were all a little more childlike in how we approached our lives. If our leaders, the organisations and the institutions that we are part of were a little more childlike in their approach. And what would our world look like as a result.
Now when I say childlike, I need to clarify that I don’t mean childISH because clearly that would be far from ideal (although in many ways we are seeing this play out in some of our largest institutions around the world). We definitely don’t need more adult tantrums or people being totally myopic in their outlook or saying bluntly whatever the first thing that comes into their mind regardless of its impact.
No, when I say childlike I mean taking inspiration from some of the beautiful, innate attributes that make children so refreshing to be around – such a breath of fresh air.
So, what are these qualities I’m referring to:
Abundant curiosity & love of learning – For any of us that have even had a small exposure to toddlers, we’ll know that toddlers are constantly curious about everything that is going on around them (how many times have you heard “why…but why…why though…why”). They are constantly (and even, at times, infuriatingly) dedicated to understanding how things work and why things are the way they are. They are truly of a beginners’ mindset hunting for the answers like mini detectives, not satisfied with surface level or superficial responses but rather getting to the heart of it. They want to learn and are in a state of perpetual learning.
Brave & bold – Young children have a profound confidence in their own abilities and are bold and brave in the quest for growth. They are constantly pushing their own (and others) limits in the pursuit of learning what is possible. They dream big and believe fully in those dreams. My one year old is constantly climbing up, leaping into and tearing about obstacles well beyond his capabilities. On the one hand it is absolutely terrifying (and frankly at times quite dangerous), but it is the intent or purpose of it which is key – that is about testing his limits learning to trust himself (and probably also just to keep me on my toes!!).
Agile, resilient & resourceful – Children generally have the most incredible agility, resourcefulness and belief that they can bounce back from anything like the spring-iest bungy jump. You only have to see the relative ease with which they navigate through big developmental milestones and changes. In fact, so often they are much better at this than we are. One of my favourite activities to do with leaders in a facilitated workshop is the Marshmallow Tower Challenge. It’s a great way to see how well people collaborate, to allow people to play and innovate. Interestingly, one key findings the researchers who launched this experiment found was that kindergartners generally outperform otherwise fully functioning adults. The reason for this is that five year olds embrace the concept of trial & error, of experimentation, of considering that you are always in a state of beta and learning from mistakes made.
Playful & adventurous – children are playful explorers. Everything they do is in the spirit of play and learning through play. They have an innate energy and a beautiful way of creating lightness in any situation. Their laughter and joie-de-vivre brings an optimistic, ‘we can do this’ energy to all they do. It is joyful to be around, and it is disarmingly powerful in a highly cynical world.
Creative & innovative – young children have the most amazing imaginations and aren’t limited by the realities of this or that or what has always been. They are living in the present moment and are constantly creating and innovating. You only have to see them painting or playing ‘shop’ or dressing themselves to know that they believe anything is possible and no problem is a problem for long.
So, let’s imagine a world where we all embraced our inner child. If we all first sought to understand, to be curious, to explore, to consider we are in a state of perpetual learning. If we were all a bit more playful and didn’t take ourselves too seriously but at the same time had deep grit and resourcefulness. If we were more innovative and creative in the way we look to solve some of the worlds big opportunities. And if we were all a little bit bolder and braver in going after what we want. All I can think is we might be much closer to solving some of the challenges the world is currently facing. And we would be doing it in an environment filled with love, lightness, laughter and wonder.
I know this is a world I want to live in. What about you? How can you be more childlike today?