All I Really Need to Know (about management) I Learned From my Toddler

Over the years I’ve learned quite a lot from being my toddler’s Dad. Here are some of the things I’ve been able to adopt and put into practice in my role as a leader and manager of technical people.

Ask open-ended questions
Asking a Yes/No question almost always will elicit a Yes or a No for answer.
When you’re after the details, ask an open-ended question.
Treat everyone differently
Each of my children developed differently from all the others. Not all the rules and techniques could be applied equally.
Your employees aren’t cookie-cutter either.
Work is play
When you’re a toddler, your job is to play. It’s also true that “in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”1
Why can’t we incorporate some play into our work tasks? Encourage it and help your employees make it possible. This doesn’t mean your employees won’t take their jobs seriously; it does mean that they’ll start bringing their whole person to work for you.

Snacks and naps are important
Playing hard is hard work. How can a toddler perform her best without snacks and rest?
We ask our employees to work long and hard and we expect them to deliver results. Breaks are an important part of keeping balance.
Innovation comes from slack
Have you ever seen what a toddler will do with a pile of blocks (or fill-in-the-blank) on a rainy afternoon with “nothing to do”?
Give your employees a bit of slack in their workload to have time for free thoughts and working on creative projects. It’s good for more organizations than just Google‘s.
Why is a good question
Each of my toddlers hit that “Why?” stage. If you don’t treat the sound as simply noise but as a real desire to know, it can lead to amazing places. Answer with “Let’s find out why” and then go do it.
Encourage curiosity. It’s the curious employee that will ask the question that leads to the solution that saves your quarter.
Quick wins
Taking a toddler to a fishing hole with few fish is disaster. They need a feisty bluegill on the line early. I now get begged to take them fishing. And that memory of the tug on their line keeps them going between strikes on slower days when real patience is required.
Give your team an early taste for success. Not only will it prompt them to want more, but it can be a very real encouragement when things aren’t going so well.
Occasional losses
This is almost a converse to quick wins. Learning to handle disappointment is important.
Our teams won’t always win. We need to be ready for this eventuality.
Be resilient
Have you ever watched a little one learn to walk? When they’re really determined to learn, they fall down, check to make certain they’re not hurt and then get back up to try it again.
When your people are learning new skills, give them a safe environment and lots of encouragement to bounce back and keep going.
Turn over the rocks
We were out in the woods, turning over rocks. I asked her why we were doing this and was told “because you never know what you might find.”
Encourage exploration.

I have a few more but this seemed like a good place to stop.

Readers, what have you learned from your toddlers that you have put into practice in your management and leadership roles?

  1. Mary Poppins
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