Leadership Examples from a Tribe of Kindergartners

Some time ago, I was a guest post on Michael Hopkins Lead on Purpose blog. At Mike’s recommendation, I am posting this on my own site. I have added some new insights and perspective.

What can a classroom full of bright-eyed and energized kindergartners teach you about leadership? A lot!

 My wife is a gifted teacher and leader of young minds. She’s a tuned-in educator and Kindergarten tribal leader who gives each child the attention of a ninja master. I often spend time in her classroom observing and listening. I’m well acquainted with each personality in this little tribe. Near the end of the school year, my wife asked if I could complete a project with her class.

The project was to ask each student, and record the answers to; “What was the most important thing I learned in Kindergarten this year?” I decided to use this as research into the minds of 6 year olds and to see what leadership attributes the kids had acquired over the months. The project was fun, the one-on-one discussions great and the comments from each student’s journal a fun read for any family member. Below are the responses and how often they were mentioned without any coaching on my part:

  • I learned how to Read (4)
  • I learned my A-B-Cs (4) 
  • I learned more about mathematics (3)
  • I learned why we should wash our hands (1)
  • I discovered the library and books (2) 
  • I learned we have RULES (1)
  • I learned respect for my teacher (4)
  • I learned Fire Safety (1)
  • I learned how to make friends and to share (5)
  • I learned about Art (2)
  • I learned computer skills and terminology (2)

I want to share some leadership qualities that each of us should possess – that I learned in Kindergarten. 

Your ABC’s and 1-2-3’s – From the first day of Kindergarten, great teachers assess individual needs, capabilities and prepare materials, activities and learning experiences for each student. As leaders, we need to follow the same by actively assessing the capabilities of each team member, understand their personalities, strengths and challenges and identify ways improve their contribution.

As with any good Kindergarten teacher, when was the last time you conducted an assessment of each team member? As a leader do you have regular (formal and informal) one-on-one discussions with your team? These are not performance reviews or interrogation sessions, but time allocated to listening, understanding and addressing issues. Do you hold regular sessions to build business, corporate or other knowledge? I’m not talking about boring staff meetings. I’m talking interactive sessions where you or others members of your team lead sessions on topics that were identified by you or the team.

Washing Your Hands – Kindergartners learn, if you don’t want to get sick or spread germs, you should wash your hands regularly. Every leader has to create, maintain and show integrity. Are you the type of leader that passes “germs” to his team and organization with negative comments about individuals and management? Do you build integrity by maintaining individual, team and corporate confidentiality? Are you keeping your “hands clean” so the team trust and relies on you?

Rules – Kindergartners as well as leaders learn that rules are established as a pattern of consistency. Are their rules or guidance that you have established with your team? Do you set the example by following the team without failure? Kindergartners know the consequences for breaking the rules include removal of privileges or the dreaded visit to the principal’s office. As a leader you have to set and maintain realistic expectations and “rules” for your team.

Fire Safety – a colleague once commented; “never burn a bridge, for you might have to cross the river again and walking over rushing water is easier than swimming through it.” As leadership, we have to create and sustain relationships with individuals, team, executives, customers and perhaps shareholders, investors and industry analysts. Leadership isn’t just about directing a group of people, projects or things. It’s about open communications that creates credibility for you and your team. Create “fire safety” in your team by looking for ways to improve team communications that will lead to better internal and external collaboration.

Sharing – Kindergartners recognize one of the most important aspects of class (team) dynamics is learning to share and making friends. As a leader, are you building the team by sharing knowledge, insights, corporate shifts, changes with the team? What methods do you use to socialize new information? Do you send a few emails late on Friday afternoon, or actively interact with the team and share? Do you build awareness and share the success and challenges of your team’s accomplishments with executive management? If not, why. Even a kindergartner knows you need an advocate, who’s willing to stand on your behalf.

A Tribal Leaders Perspective: As leaders we must understand and use our team’s personality, capabilities and experience to build transparency and sustain success.

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  • David Locke  On January 8, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Even in Kindergarten the kids clump up. Each clump has a leader. What is it about that leader? Does it go away with the kid’s creativity as they progress through school?

    When I was in the military, nobody trained leaders. Instead, they identified them, and made them the official leaders.

    Even HR departments that train us in situational leadership and such really don’t notice leaders or ability and reflect it back into their organizations. Leaders get lost. Efforts go to turning non-leader managers into leaders at great cost to the organization.

    This one over here is the leader! How did you find out?


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