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!

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