Leadership Lessons from My Two-Year-Old

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This article was recently featured in Real Leaders digital publication.

“Mommy, it’s okay.” As I find myself obsessing about something incredibly unimportant, my rambunctious, adorable, red-headed two-year old has just floored me with some serious and grounded toddler wisdom once again.

Sure, he may eat things off the ground, and think the word “chief” is actually “cheese,” and dump a shoe full of sand on his head, but when I step back, I realize that my two-year old is one of the richest sources of leadership wisdom.

Question your belief system – Spend a minute with a two-year old and you’re bound to hear their favorite question – “Why?” The number of times I answer this daily is truly astounding (and, on more than one occasion, a bit frustrating). And yet this question has also had me seriously reflect on standard wardrobe choices (Why does he have to wear pants?), culinary actions (Why do we eat cereal in the morning instead of at night?), and parenting decisions (Why does what Mommy says go?). When I bring this back into a leadership context, it consistently reminds me that I could do with a few more “why’s” there as well. As a leader, I know it’s important to share context, bring people along on the journey, and communicate – and yet, how often do I stop to really appeal to people’s “Why’s” or, even better, stop to ask my own? How often do I question the beliefs that may be holding me back? Coming from a place of curiosity provides a powerful unlocking mechanism that allows me to tap into the possibility of what could be rather than the habit of only observing my perception of what is.

Charge forward with an open heart – One of my favorite oft-heard quotes from my son is his insistence that everyone is his friend. “This my friend, Mommy.” (Yes, he is speaking in ALMOST complete sentences…but no sweetheart, that’s the cashier that you just met.) And yet, perhaps he is right – that stranger is his friend. I wonder if William Butler Yeats was talking to a two-year old when he famously stated, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.” What a beautiful way to go through life, let alone business, seeing clients, vendors, and employees as friends. How would I treat everyone I interact with if I started from the assumption that they are my “friend”? I would assume we want the best for one another, I would strive to be caring and compassionate, and I would make sure we find opportunities to laugh and enjoy each other. Who couldn’t do with a few more friends…especially in the business world? Wouldn’t that create more collaborative, supportive, powerful, and sustainable relationships?

Fall and get right back up – There is nothing quite like the resilience of a two-year old. He sustains falls that I am positive will take him out, and yet he bounces right back up as if nothing happens. It’s only if act surprised, nervous, or worried that he mirrors that reaction. What a consistent and profound reminder that it is in my control how I respond and react to things – and that those responses and reactions will inevitably influence those of my peers and team. Applying my son’s exuberance to the falls we inescapably take over and over in business could help make the whole ride quite a bit more, dare I say, fun.

 Savor the moment – Like so many others in this day and age, I’m consistently thinking about the future and past, causing a plague of rumination and anxiety. I spend so much of my day in thought: focusing on the clients we have yet to win and the projects we have yet to deliver; questioning whether or not I’ve “shown up” as powerfully as I could or as I wanted to; reflecting on areas of my work where I didn’t give my best. My son spends zero time in these areas. Watch him eat and there is nothing else on his mind – he is enjoying every bite as if it’s the only thing in the world. Watch him play and he is fully engrossed in the entertaining piece of plastic in front of him. And watch him love and he is never distracted by assumed stories about the other or projected narratives about them. He is just there, present with what is. Savoring the moment is one of the hardest lessons for busy adults to embrace – and yet, when I’m with my son and able to be fully and truly present, I am reminded that there is no greater joy in the world.

Whether it’s staying authentic at all times, throwing caution to the wind to enjoy life, or approaching life with a curiosity, toddlers can be a source of countless leadership lessons. They just seem to do it right at that age. It’s only when we’re older that we start clouding our thoughts with judgment, perception, fear, and negativity. So, I’m committing to approach my life with a little more toddler – perhaps just without “tasting bugs” for breakfast.

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