Leadership principles acquired from Kindergarten

This is a follow-up to an earlier guest post Leadership Lessons from a Kindergarten Class. In that post, I introduced my firsthand observations while working with my wife’s kindergarten class. From a leadership perspective, I relayed my participation in a classroom project where I asked and captured answers to each child’s response to, “What was the most important thing you learned in Kindergarten this year?”

The answers ranged from “learning to read”, “learning the alphabet”, “learning more math”, “Why we should wash our hands,” “Respect for my teacher” and other insights from the minds of 5 and 6-year-old children. Feel free to read my analogies to leadership in the post.

Fast forward to this years class. My wife moved to a different school, however, the kindergarten is in the same county, in the same school district, but there’s a difference.

My wife teaches at a magnet school for English language learners or ELL. The class is very diverse with over 10 nationalities in her classroom alone. There are  different traditions, customs, cultures and backgrounds all brought together with the purpose to learn. Some of the children were born in the United States and have a command of the language, while others have been in the country for a few months and have no language skills and lack an understanding of their new culture, language and how to succeed.

As a product leader, how would you handle the diversity and differences, and create a plan to support the success of each person?

My wife has great leadership and teaching skills, and her methods of creating a cohesive class that brings diversity and learning to the forefront has taught me some key principles in how leaders can build diverse teams. These principles apply to those who’ve recently joined company’s, have acquired or merged with another organization, or have been tasked with building product management or product marketing teams.

  1. Understand Current Situations: Some leaders overlook or ignore current situations and impact to the organization. Whether there’s a change to the organization or team,  product leaders should learn and understand cultures, styles, skills and experience and seek to understand. From a personal perspective, my wife has involved parents, extended family, interpreters, and other leaders to assist in understanding the needs of her students. This has created a bond and alliance that has grown since the beginning of the school year. How are you creating a bond, trust and alliance with those your collaborate with?
  2. Listen and Adapt: While listening and understanding are key to product leaders, adapting to current situations and building teams and organizations provides insights into how you might address organization, defining roles and responsibilities and building rapport with contributors. Regularly schedule one-on-one time with contributors and the organizations they interact with. Take time to listen and adapt your style to those on the team. Ask questions about backgrounds, experiences and other areas that will give you a better perspective of the culture, past organization, accomplishments and gaps.
  3. Start with the Basics: Means different things to different situations. Product leaders should constantly evaluate how they communicate with their teams, and what methods are used to connect. It is the responsibility for product leaders to build common languages, methods, techniques and measurements that executives and other stakeholders understand. Whether you’re a leader of products or teams, building commonality will eliminate frustration and confusion. Look for ways to involve a diverse skill set in building other essentials such as market authority, product vision and product planning.
  4. Be Willing to Refine Your Plan: The final principle brings it all together. While you may have plans in place, changes often unseat these and drive you to further refinement. As a product leader do you have a well-defined, articulated and flexible plan that outlines, organizational, process, communications and plans to hire, educate or transition teams? If not, pick one of the items mentioned and dive in.

Whether you’re a Kindergarten teacher or product leader, understanding, adapting and planning for diverse or changing situations provides a foundation where product management and product marketing can successfully grow.

If you like the post, please comment and retweet on Twitter or post on LinkedIn. If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Jennifer Doctor  On March 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    The message of “listen and adapt” cannot be overlooked.

    Too many leaders have a single focused direction. When a new team member enters the mix, new skills, abilities and visions are now available. However, team leaders tend to overlook the fresh views and are more concerned about how the new person integrates, melds, becomes like the the others.

    Just as in a classroom, or even the larger community at large, our product teams thrive when differences not only exist but the individuals are encouraged to not “assimilate.” While I understand and appreciate the drive for a company – or team – to build a “one” image, it should not be done at recognizing the value that all bring into the environment.

    Life would be kind of boring if we all looked, talked, acted and thought the same. Why do our leaders often wish we do?

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