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6 Forgotten Leadership Lessons From Childhood

To be the best leader you can be, remember what your mom drilled into you.

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BY Ayse Birsel - 09 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You want to know the top lessons in leadership training? It turns out you already know them. They're more or less the same lessons you learned as kids.

The things that your parents and your primary school teachers drilled into you are the same ones the best executive coaches will drill into you to help you be the best leader you can be.

How do I know? I'm one of top leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith's first 25 cohorts of his 'pay it forward' project, 100 Coaches, and he and his amazing cadre of friends--among them Frances Hesselbein, CEO of Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute and Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company--and his teammates, Frank Wagner and Chris Coffey, have been teaching us.

So here is a refresher course on the lessons from your childhood that can be applied to the business world.

 

1. Say thank you!

Marshall Goldsmith tells this great story in his bestseller, What Got You Here Won't Get You There. He was on a flight when there was an emergency and everyone thought the plane was going to crash. At that moment, his only regret was, "I didn't thank the people I needed to thank." The emergency was averted and the first thing he did afterwards was write thank you notes to everyone to acknowledge what they've done for him.

Thank the people who've helped you become who you are with a thank you note. Just like your mom taught you.

 

2. Listen more (talk less)!

Alan Mulally taught us that great leaders listen well. Being a good listener is a strength. Look into people's eyes and listen to them attentively. Listen in the present time. You will learn new things. You will let the person who is talking know that you value what they have to say. You will build trust.

There was a reason why our parents told us to "talk less and listen more." We were actually being taught a leadership lesson.

 

3. Don't interrupt!

Part of better listening habits is not interrupting. We interrupt others because we are bubbling with ideas. Or we know the answer and we want the other person to know we know the answer. Or we think we have bigger, more important ideas then they do. It happens. When it happens, stop and apologize. The more you do it, the less you will interrupt people and start to exemplify the importance of listening to each other.

Next time you interrupt someone, simply say, "I interrupted you, I am sorry, please continue."

 

4. Help each other!

Goldsmith says noone likes feedback; but everyone can use feed forward. Instead of dwelling on the past, feed forward is about asking each other for help for the future. He has people do this in pairs, each person tells the other something they want to improve on (i.e. I want to exercise more regularly), listens to the answer (i.e., schedule it into your calendar as if it is a meeting), says thank you (you don't say "I don't like it" or "I've heard this before", you just say thank you). You then switch roles. Then you switch partners. The more people you do this with the more help you get and give. It is humbling, empowering, builds trust and it makes it apparent how to be there for each other.

We all need help and we can all give help.

 

5. Be kind!

Goldsmith says that one of the most important criteria for getting into the 100 Coaches program is not brains, expertise, position or influence. It is kindness. One of the stories he had Frances Hesselbein tell us underscores this lesson--the story of her grandmother being kind to a Chinese laundryman, Mr. Yi, and being rewarded with his only possessions in this country as he was returning to his country--2 beautiful, giant Chinese vases. Why? Because Hesselbein's grandma was the only person who respected him and showed this through kindness. That is the lesson she grew up with and shared with us.

Be kind and respect all people. It is probably also the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

 

6. Play!

This is my add. Approach work playfully because when we play, we're like kids, we're not afraid of making mistakes. We try things out without judgment and accept we have so much to learn. Playing with ideas, with new ways of doing things, and learning constantly is probably the best way we can move forward, innovate and learn from our failures. Great leaders I know go to work with a smile and a bounce in their step and make work look like play.

Play like a child even though you're an adult.

How about starting today by thanking our parents and embodying their lessons in the office (and in life), everyday. And if you have other childhood lessons that have served you well as a leader, please write to me or comment here. I would love to hear from you.

Design the life you love!