This week was my youngest son’s first school play. He was Pig #2 in a version of The Three Little Pigs. As I stood on a chair in the back of the room aiming my video recorder it dawned on me that there were a few useful leadership lessons unfolding before me. Try these on:
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. The old saying still rings true and it is fundamental to understanding leadership. As I watched the happy group of kids at the front of the room stumble over their lines, repeat botched words, and look to their teacher for help remembering certain parts, I chuckled. Same thing happens at work in one-way or another every day. Rarely is it the case that bold new ideas or efforts work flawlessly the first time. Instead, they have to be adjusted, realigned, and sometimes scrapped in order to move ahead productively. Many a professional is humbled by these perceived setbacks. Not the kids in the play. They just grinned and tried it again.
Hard work in and of itself is to be appreciated. You want to motivate the troops? Realize that great outcomes are only one target for your motivational efforts. The other is great effort. Without it, you won’t be seeing many more great outcomes. The children in the play will not be accused anytime soon of being world-class thespians. Nonetheless, when they were through, the parents erupted in genuine applause. The kids left willing and able to come back to school the following week and engage whatever learning activity the teacher might use – because their efforts had been positively received and appreciated, even if the outcome was not quite perfect the last time. You have to stretch, experiment, and learn before you can grow.
If you want to lead, you need to get “into role” and take your job seriously. To me this means at least two things. First, it means practice. As my high school basketball coach liked to say, “practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.” Annoying at the time, but I think it makes a great point. Take the preparations as seriously as the real show and the show is likely to be a lot more entertaining. The kids knew this and took their teacher’s advice. They practiced at school for many days and at night with their parents – and it showed. Second, you need to look and feel like a leader to be taken seriously. For some that might mean a suit. For others that might mean communicating with more candor. It depends on the context. For the kids, it meant slapping on the face paint, and for my son, it meant taping on fake ears and a tail. When he said “not by the hair of my chinny chin chin” we all believed him. Do you appear in a manner that allows others to believe you?
That leads me to the last amazing lesson I learned from the kindergarten play.
The smallest among us can teach us the most amazing lessons. The room was full of very accomplished parents: doctors, lawyers, executives, and business owners. The number of college degrees in the room must have tipped fifty. Interestingly, the group of educated parents was not doing the teaching. The five year olds were. They taught us not to fear, to express ourselves with gusto, to work well with others to achieve our goals and to celebrate our hard work and achievements (which they modeled by eating cookies and juice after the play ended). Truly excellent life lessons.
Sometimes we get so busy with details and deadlines we miss the learning moments that surround us every day. Kudos to my boy for helping me remember that useful fact. Whether you are watching a play, eating dinner, or enduring yet another meeting, open your eyes with the intent of seeing a learning moment and you might be surprised what you will see.