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Leadership Lessons from a 2-year Old

Thu, Jul 9, 2015

Columbia, Maryland

It was another crazy morning of getting everyone ready and out of the house. We were walking to the car and my two-year-old daughter, Olivia, wanted to stop and smell the flowers (literally) in the front yard. I tried to rush her and managed to get her into her car seat. "My do!" she yelled (this is toddler talk for "I want to do it!"). She wanted to buckle her own car seat. Why did these things always happen on the days I am running late? I knew I wouldn't win the battle, so I tried to patiently encourage her to quickly buckle the strap because "Mommy has to get to an important client meeting." Of course she took her time; after all, she was on her timetable, not mine.

I was reflecting on this experience a couple of days later, and realized there was a lot of learning for me in this interaction. I like to do things quickly--check things off my list, make the decision, move forward on a project, achieve a goal. I like it when things are organized and go as planned (when I was expecting Olivia, my husband used to joke that when she was born she would come out with a Franklin Covey planner). Sometimes I just have to laugh when Olivia dumps milk on her school outfit three minutes before leaving, runs in the opposite direction when I tell her to get in the car, or throws herself on the floor in a tantrum when I tell her to put on her shoes. 

Oftentimes in our leadership, we are so focused on getting things done, that we are not present in our relationships. We put off giving that meaningful feedback to our coworker; we don't get a chance to tell our employee how much we value her work; or we don't have enough time in our day to get out and interact with staff members. We rationalize that we have important things to do. Yet slowing down and being a deliberate, purposeful leader is what will make us most effective. We forget that building and maintaining these significant relationships is what leadership is all about. It's the people side of the business that often gets neglected.

Questions to ponder:

  • Who do I need to recognize?
  • What work (or personal) relationship have I not been giving 100% to?
  • Who on my team have I not thanked lately?
  • Who on my team needs more focused development? 

I wish I could say that I will never feel the need to rush my daughter again. I can't change my busy and productive nature, and patience is not one of my strengths. But I have learned a lesson about being present in each moment. She is stretching me in a new direction, and I realize I can learn a lot from a two year old. 

A week after this incident, my husband was taking Olivia to school (he's much more patient than me) and she was slowly walking down the front path. I waved to her from behind the door, anxiously waiting to get back to my office to prepare for a conference call. She must have recognized I still hadn't  quite learned the lesson of being present. She turned around, put out her arms, smiled at me and said, "Hug?" Of course I did what every mother would do. I ran outside, threw my arms around her, and gave her a big kiss and hug. That is a moment I wouldn't miss for any conference call.

Laurie Maddalena is CEO of Envision Excellence, a leadership development and executive coaching firm in the Washington, DC area. Laurie is a former credit union executive and now works with credit unions nationally. For more information, visit www.envisionexcellence.net.

Laurie will be facilitating the Exceptional Leader program beginning in September. For more information, CLICK HERE