January 2012

Are You a Smarter Leader Than a 4th Grader?

Can you answer that question? Keep reading and see if your answer changes. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to volunteer as a facilitator for a small group of 4th grade girls. Sponsored by the Girl Scouts, this program was created to help 4th grade girls craft a vision of their current and future potential. The curriculum covers 10 weeks of subjects ranging from healthy self-esteem and self-confidence, to ani-bullying and building positive friendships and family relationships. It’s been a fascinating experience to watch these 9-year-olds interact with each other during these mature subject conversations and activities. Since I have no children, my frame of reference was clearly limited, and it is not hard to compare them to the leadership groups and individuals I coach.

Here’s what I observe with these 4th graders. They effortlessly pass the “leadership” opportunities to each other and build on each other’s ideas in ways that we seem to forget as we grow up and become leaders or members of teams. They actually listen as they add new thoughts. Do they occasionally go off topic and onto personal tangents? Of course. But they get back on track and provide helpful ideas to each other. There’s innocence, curiosity, simplicity and a pure desire to contribute. It is a powerful reminder of how complicated we tend to make things as we grow up, both in our personal lives and as leaders. Does everything really need to be as hard and complex as we make it?

Have you seen that TV show, “Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” The adult contestants compete to win dollars if they can answer typical 1st through 5th grade questions, and they get help from some 5th grade classmates. Rarely do the adult contestants win, and the questions include topics that most of us have long forgotten as we watch the energetic 5th grade classmates get the right answers almost every time. When the adult contestant misses a question it prompts the defensive shameful behavior that we learn along the way in life. In the rare instance that a 5th grader misses, they look reflective, perhaps disappointed, but move along to do better on the next question.

My 4th grade girls have yet to learn how uncool it is to show your vulnerability or to be ashamed of how you might be different from others. They just are who they are, excited about life, and learning and full of curiosity and bright energy. I was reminded by the school counselor that just about all of that will change by the time they reach 6th grade. I’m sure she is right. My hope is they will remember just a few things about being happy and staying curious to take into adulthood and for some, into meaningful leadership roles.

Important Leadership Lessons:

  • Keep it simple. How can you uncomplicate your life or work with even one small shift?
  • Listen… more often. Try it today.
  • Ask questions to understand other perspectives. New ideas and solutions will emerge.
  • Collaborate with pure intentions. Focus on the big win, not just yours.
  • Build on other’s ideas. Watch the collective energy rise.

Reflect Back...

Can you remember those things that created meaning for you when you were 9 years old? How did you keep those things alive within you? How can you bring them out now?

Or, will you face the camera at the end of the day and have to say, “I’m not a smarter leader than a 4th grader”.

If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.

Struggling with leadership effectiveness or business change?

If you’re looking to enhance your leadership effectiveness and would like some help to get the results you’re looking to achieve, I’d love to talk with you. I help leaders to successfully navigate the challenges of making change to achieve the results they want. Visit my website www.terrihughes.com for details, free resources and to schedule a complimentary consultation to move you forward!



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