This year is my second as a volunteer in the Atlanta Public Schools. I volunteer as a reader to a kindergarten class in an underserved community. And yes, my favorite day of the month is when I start my morning in the classroom.
While they are learning skills in math, reading, and music, just to name a few areas, I too am learning. My education, however, is about “being, connecting and leading.” The children, the teachers and the school’s loving atmosphere allow me to be in the present moment, experience our inter-connectedness and recognize that leadership lessons are all around me.
So what have I learned about leadership from these five year olds and their teachers? Here are five lessons:
1) Ask for help – The children recognize when they are not getting something on their own. Many times, I have been asked, “Can you help me?” They know a request for help saves time and energy. It gives them a boost for seeing concepts more clearly and aids in the pace of completing their assignments.
Good leaders don’t go it alone. Recognizing they can’t do it all on their own, they ask for and accept help.
2) Be courageous –The children demonstrate enthusiasm for embracing a new challenge, taking action and staying the course. At points along the learning continuum, they have no qualifications for sounding out words or thinking through a math problems. Yet, they force themselves forward into new territory. They attack the challenge at hand and stay the course. Sure enough, they break through with new discoveries that enable movement to what is next.
Good leaders don’t hesitate or hang back from challenges. They are courageous, taking risks for the sake of moving forward.
3) Live with constant curiosity and open-mindedness – The lean into wondering and questioning in order to develop their capabilities. They open their minds to learning new things. They use their “beginner’s minds” to ask curious questions: “why,” “what,” and “how.” And they welcome experiences that facilitate their learning and satisfy their desire to know more.
Good leaders expand their perspectives and build upon what they know. They never stop learning and accept curiosity and open-mindedness as skills required for success.
4) Acknowledge the small things – The children thrive on feedback for a job well done. “Good job with that math workbook.” “High five for great spelling.” “Put a sticker next to your name for reading that page.” Praise is a way in which small steps are celebrated and confidence is boosted. The teacher know that praise is a method to keep them engaged and inspired to move forward.
Good leaders acknowledge success and appreciate progress. They don’t wait for the end objective to be complete. Rather they praise a long the way. In doing so, they keep people motivated and stimulated.
5) Know your people – Every child is different. Even at five or six, they have their own experiences, ways of learning, cultural backgrounds and beliefs. The teachers identify the differences and provide opportunities that enable each child to reach his or her potential. They know which children thrive on stretching themselves. And they know the children who don’t readily accept a challenge. They know which children are the introverts and which are the extroverts. And based upon what they know, they help develop skills and capacities to prepare the children for the next phase of their education.
Good leaders understand their people. They know how to best capitalize on what each brings to the table. They know how to structure team work to optimize talents. And they know how to stretch people so they work at the edge of their comfort zones and expand their skill sets.