How lessons from the playground can be used in the boardroom

For female executives with young families, insights for corporate leaders just may be found in the lessons we’ve taught our children.

Be nice. Share your toys. Say thank you. As the mother of 10-year-old twin daughters, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve repeated these lessons to my girls. Parents want their children to have good manners and respect one another, and that means instilling these basic tenets into their lives at an early age. It’s just one way we try to limit how often the playground erupts into sand-throwing, tear-producing, I’m-telling-my-mom scuffles.

But in my years as both a mother and an executive at an international company, I’ve come to learn that what’s good for the proverbial goose is good for the adults in the room, too. The lessons we instill in our children are the same lessons that can help corporate executives be better leaders. Take a look.

Listen with a growth-mindset. The business world desperately needs leaders who are willing to listen and engage in conversations with those holding different opinions and worldviews. Many leaders feel pulled inward, but in reality, this is the time to have more dialogue, not retreat and hunker in our own bunker. If we can stay curious and interested and see the world through someone else’s viewpoint, it will only broaden our own horizons.

It’s OK to not know the answer, as long as we learn. As business leaders, it’s important to have a healthy dose of humility and be able to say out loudwhat it is we don’t know. We can upskill ourselves tremendously when we simply talk with others and be open to learning. For me, every conversation leads to knowing more at the end than I did at the beginning – and I sometimes discover that I actually knew less than I thought I did.

It all comes down to the ABCs. We’re always trying to determine what the smartest, most collaborative, most woven-together strategy there is to get from point A to point B. And I think that, oftentimes, it’s in our nature to think linearly and incrementally. But we should always ask ourselves, “Is there a quantum leap? Is there a completely different way not to hop from letter to letter to letter to get from A to Z, but to make one massive leap forward?” Sometimes it’s simply a matter of taking time and thinking differently.

Be yourself. When I first started out in sales, I interacted with a very homogeneous group of men. They looked alike. They talked alike. They all came from one of three schools. And I didn’t fit in. Over time, I tried to become more like them, as opposed to being myself. And I realized that through this process I stopped playing to win but instead was simply playing not to lose. That was a huge learning insight for me because my peers were never able to derive the full value of my differences. We should all ask ourselves, “Am I being my best self? How am I bringing my best self to this team, to my work?” And I think it’s also part of the accountability of the team and the environment in the company to say, “Are we creating an environment that is conducive for each member of the team to bring his or her best self, and for us to derive the full value?”

Teach decision-making skills by giving decision-rights.  One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mom-friend-coach, made the most remarkable difference in shifting the dynamics during the ‘terrible twos’. My more obstinate daughter would throw an all out tantrum when forced to do what she didn’t want to do, for example leaving the playground, or eating her broccoli.  Every developing child wants to feel more control over her choices, and so do adults, colleagues and employees.  This one simple shift changed the playground dynamics.  I would simply say “We will be leaving the playground soon. Do you want to leave in 5 minutes or 10 minutes? It’s your decision”.  Smart girl that she is, would answer with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eye: “Ten minutes!” Cool. Colleagues require a bit more sophisticated approach, but the principle is the same – delegating decision-making authority with related accountability is motivational and important for team members’ leadership development.

Be nice. Share your toys. Say thank you. It may sound overly simplistic, but these lessons we teach our children – the basic tenets of Parenting 101- can also make you a better leader.

 


Stacey Kennedy is president of the South and South East Asia Region for Philip Morris International, responsible for the full spectrum of PMI’s operations in more than 12 markets including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. She resides in Hong Kong with her husband and twin daughters.

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