Gini Dietrich

Five Leadership Lessons Learned from a Toddler

By: Gini Dietrich | January 25, 2017 | 
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When my little beanie arrived three years ago—albeit, we had only four hours’ notice…no nine months for me!—it was a bit, um, stressful.

Spin Sucks (the book) was published three weeks later and I had a full year of speaking already scheduled.

OK, so stressful might not be the correct word.

A new baby, a new book, and a full year of speaking engagements, not to mention running two businesses and all the other stuff I was committed to doing.

I’m lucky I’m not in the loony bin.

(Maybe I should consider the loony bin.)

That first year was so hard.

It was difficult to create a routine—I really enjoyed getting up at 5 a.m. to write, and she loved to get up with me.

For those of you who have ever tried to do work with a baby on your lap, you know it’s pretty much impossible.

Not to mention all those three-hour, outdoor bike rides I used to do? Ha!

I had to very quickly learn how to rearrange my life, and still live up to the commitments I’d made (and still get to ride).

Babies Teach You Delegation and Productivity…Fast

It’s actually quite amazing how productive you are when you know you have a baby waiting for you at home.

Not to mention, when you go from knowing you can work 24/7 to, well, doing maybe half of that if you’re lucky.

You also learn how to delegate—and delegate well, which was a big problem for me.

I always had this concern that if I delegated, my team would end up working 80 hours a week…and I didn’t want that to happen.

But you very quickly learn, if things are to get done and you’re not going to be a bottleneck, you have to trust your team.

You’re forced to work less, delegate more, and be extraordinarily productive with your time.

As the baby (so quickly) grows (so quickly) into a toddler (so quickly), things become a little easier at home.

You can create a routine (she’d sleep all day now, if I’d let her) and can even get by with providing paper and crayons at your desk so you can finish what you’re working on (which is exactly what she’s doing while I finish writing this).

Leadership Lessons Learned from a Toddler

But what’s more, having a toddler teaches you so many great leadership lessons.

It’s not just about delegation and productivity. It’s about learning very valuable leadership lessons, as you oftentimes negotiate with a tiny terrorist.

Here is what I can impart upon you, from living with a ridiculously sassy, sarcastic, intelligent threenager.

Everything is a Negotiation

I remember someone telling us a couple of years ago that you always want to offer two choices.

Make sure they’re both choices you’re OK with so you can live with whatever they decide to do, but give them the decision-making power.

The same thing applies with your team.

Let them make the decisions.

In some cases, you will have to offer several options, but be OK with what they decide.

Answer the Question “Why?”

Oh my gosh.

“Why?” “But, why?”

WHY DO YOU THINK?

Now that I have that off my chest…

Toddlers teach you that every human being wants to know the “why” behind what they’re doing.

With most adults, though, you can answer the why question once and they’ll get it.

Toddlers?

Well, let’s just say I will answer it once and the second through 500,000th time she asks, I do ask her why she thinks.

From the bowels of leadership lessons, though, remember that the people you work with are able to do their jobs more efficiently if you tell them why they’re doing something.

My team can also tell you that I utter the phrase, “What do you think?” more than anything else.

Do the Work Yourself

A couple of nights ago, I walked into the kitchen and my darling, blond-haired child was standing on the counter, on her tippy-toes, trying to find a snack in the cupboard (she also was naked, which has to lend to leadership lessons in some way…or not).

She had asked for a snack and I told her I’d be happy to get her one, as soon as I had finished folding the laundry.

Well, she got a little impatient and went in search for a snack herself.

While I don’t really want her standing on the counter, on her tippy-toes, it is quite impressive that she finds the answer herself.

Encourage that with your team.

When they ask you questions, and you know they have the answer (or can find it), ask them “have you checked your notes?” or “where did you look for that information?”

Most adults will go to their colleagues for the answers because it’s easier.

But it doesn’t teach them anything.

Teach them how to do the work themselves (or be a jerk and send them a LMGTFY link…like I do).

Stop and Smell the Flowers

I’ve always been really, really bad at stopping and looking around to admire at what my team and I have achieved.

Enter a small child whose only goal is to play, and you quickly learn you’re missing out on a great many things.

While accused of being a “floor mom,” I cannot think of anything better than hanging out with my kid and playing (we just finished building the Disney princess castle out of LEGOs, which took us a month to do together).

How often do you stop and “play” with your team?

I don’t mean in the sense that you’re doing puzzles or reading books, but that you take time to enjoy one another, even during the work day.

Yesterday morning, during our staff meeting, I asked a colleague to tell a story about himself I knew everyone would enjoy (and provided fodder to make fun of me).

While it’s a small thing, those things add up to create loyalty, trustworthiness, and fun.

Confrontation is Constructive

About a week ago, the small child came home from school and told me that her BFF said he no longer wanted to be her friend.

I asked her what she said in return and she said:

I told him that wasn’t very nice and it hurt my feelings.

Of course, they were back to being BFFs by the end of the day.

That’s because kids have zero problem getting in one another’s faces.

If someone said they didn’t want to be my friend, I’d probably start to cry and go hide in a corner, never to speak to that person again.

But these little stinkers have zero problem saying it hurt their feelings and moving on.

And moving on quickly.

What Can You Add?

I could go on and on about all of the leadership lessons this tiny person has taught me.

I also could provide a great list of things you never thought you’d say, such as, “Don’t lick the car!”

But I’m at nearly 1,200 words and I’d like to open the floor to you.

What leadership lessons have you learned from a toddler?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • OMG, I love this photo! So sweet!

    • That was right after ballet on Saturday. They’re so funny.

  • Dawn Buford

    Can we send her to the White House please?

    • You never know! Of course, the way she votes, we may be out of luck. You remember she wanted to vote for Addison Russell.

  • Helen Levinson

    Great post Gini! Owning a business, parenting a sassy smart 8 year old and and being a Girl Scouts Troop leader (magnify sassy and smart by 10 girls) has taught me to be more patient and to listen.

    The one thing I subconsciously conditioned myself to do from being a business owner for many years is that I was always trying to solve an issue before I heard someone’s explanation of the entire problem. In essence, by human nature we tend to create a story in our minds and make an assumption before the person finishes speaking. My daughter has taught me to listen first, assess, then provide a response and/or solution.

    Not to mention, thank goodness she has no filter because it keeps me in check all the time!

    • And not solving the issue for them! (Kids OR your team.) They have to do it themselves. It drives my team nuts that I always ask, “What do you think?” but it teaches them to be solution-oriented.

      • Helen Levinson

        Ha, well yes, that too! That is all we ever ask being in tech.

      • paulakiger

        Those LMGTFY items are the bomb!

        • Right?! I love that tool, even though it’s super obnoxious.

  • For me, it’s all about trusting them. You don’t want to be a helicopter parent (not even sure if that’s the right term!), and you know that they’re going to hurt themselves and that’s the best way to learn a lesson… but you always want to stop them from getting a scrape in the first place.

    Which negates their learning and fun.

    So, yes – encouraging fun, letting them know there will be consequences, and being okay with the fact you’ll have pieces to pick up afterward, and that’s okay too.

    • Which is totally relatable to a team. You want to trust them and let them do what they were hired to do. There aren’t many people who are comfortable doing that.

  • Pete Salmon

    Your daughter can teach you to fear less and care less about others’ opinions. When you are naked and searching for snacks, don’t put your shoes because you fear slipping off the counter. Don’t be all worried about closing the blinds because neighbors might see your naked rummaging. Your daughter knew what she could do if she knew she wouldn’t fail. Whatever that means.

    • What I failed to mention is searching for snacks, while naked, is totally normal in our house.

  • As a father to two young sons, I think about this from time to time. One thing that comes to mind is change management. It is all about prepping. As parents, if we just say to our kids with no warning – “time to go bed” – there is a good chance there will be some friction. At least that is the case for me. It is a far easier process if there is a lead up (“we are going upstairs for bed in 15 minutes” and then providing one or two more warnings). As human beings we are open to change, so long as there is warning. This applicable whether it is a toddler going to bed or a business unit that is going to be moving to a new part of the office.

    • So you’re telling me bedtime doesn’t get easier? Great.

  • DeirdreLopianPR

    I’m not a mom, but I am an aunt to 3 nephews and 3 nieces under 10. Patience is what I have learned. New employees, interns et. al. want to know why or how we do something. So they ask…about everything. At first I wanted to scream “Google it!” or “be proactive” instead I look at it as an obligation to pay it forward and opportunity to teach best practices. Don’t get me wrong, at times I have encouraged them to execute the assignment as if I wasn’t there and we could work together to correct any mistakes. That deep breath works wonders!

    • Well, now you know exactly what it’s like to have a three-year-old. They want to know about everything, too! LOL!! But patience is a great add. Very, very true.

  • paulakiger

    Such a rich topic for discussion. One observation is that what works for one child/employee is not the same thing that will work for another. My two are so very different – gender obviously but also in almost every other way possible. Different learning styles, different perspectives on the world, motivated differently. Very true with employee groups as well. I loved this post, Gini!

    • Totally agree. You definitely have to find what works for each colleague. But I do find the leadership lessons work across the board.

      • paulakiger

        I really missed an opportunity in this comment thread to ask “how do you say leadership lessons in Spanish?” 😉

        • OMG, Paula. WITH EVERYTHING! And now, because I ask Siri so often, she’ll just say, “Well, why don’t we just ask your phone?” Sigh…

        • And it’s “Lecciones de liderazgo,” Paula!

  • Anja Skrba

    Regarding the answering the question “Why?” – I always remember Louis CK when he’s talking about answering his daughter…lol
    Have you seen that?

  • It is really hard with how the US has taken such an ugly turn with our Government to feel positive about anything really. I mean in 2 years we could be at war internally with guns and people dying and buildings destroyed. (Vegas odds are only 10-1).

    But having 3 young kids oldest 5.5 it does allow me to observe a lot of what you wrote here and one thing you hit upon is a great lesson from the Tao of Pooh. I have been a Taoist since I was 25 and usually put it as my religion when asked for it on a form. One of the teachings from that book is to have as a goal to capture the wonders of a child in yourself. I remember after I read the book and I must of been 29ish my friends in LA had a little boy named Quinn and I got him a Hess Truck for Christmas (that year was a motor home and motorcycle that went inside). He must of been 1.5 years old. He spent seriously an hour opening and closing the doors putting the motorcycle in , then taking it out…and laughing.

    With the weight of the world on our old people’s shoulders right now literally….if we can capture just a little bit of that innocence and magic inow how great that would be!

  • Elise Perkins

    Timely for now, and in a few years. Do you know i JUST googled “how to work at home with a toddler”…Make room for one more in the loony bin!

    • The idea for this blog post actually came from the tweets we exchanged. I didn’t want you to think I was all doom and gloom. She’s my little bestie and I love having her around. But learning to balance it all IS really hard.

      • Elise Perkins

        I wondered if that was the case!

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