What Kids Can Teach Adults About Leadership

04 Jan 2007|Miguel Winebrenner

On a recent holiday trip to Europe my wife and I experienced a technical glitch aboard one of the Eurail trains, which was handled in a way that ended up reminding me of a conference where I learned how kids can help calibrate our leadership skills.

First of all, I believe the train system in Europe is fairly decent, and I’m not exactly sure what caused the trouble, but as the train came to a stop all of the attendants/operators huddled together and were discussing how to solve the problem. We couldn’t understand all too well, but it was clear that they were trying to organize each other and assign responsibilities. However, they were over-analyzing the problem, to the point where nothing was actually being done to solve the issue. In America, we could refer to this as too many cooks in the kitchen. The problem was finally solved, but it reminded me of something I learned at a forum a few years ago.

Specifically, it reminded me of a leadership forum organized by NAMIC where we learned about leadership from the way kids rationalize certain things. In order to get to this point, the forum leader asked us four questions (that are routinely asked by child psychologists):

1. How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?
2. How do you get an elephant into the refrigerator?
3. The Lion King is hosting a huge party for all the Animal Kingdom, and everyone’s invited. But, one animal does not show up- what animal does not show up?
4. There’s a small river that is usually infested by deadly crocodiles, and you need to cross it. How do you get across?

So as to not make this a run-on story, I will summarize how adults (including me) typically approach the questions followed by what kids answer to these same questions:

1. How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?
To this question, adults usually ask a lot of questions to try and dimensionalize: “How big is the refrigerator?” “How big is the giraffe?” “Can we cut the giraffe?” Etc.
Kids, on the other hand, would answer: “You open the door and put the giraffe in.”

2. How do you get an elephant into the refrigerator?
Again, adults ask a lot of questions: “Is the refrigerator big enough for both?” “Can I chop up the elephant?” “Can I burn it to ashes?” Etc.
Kids simply say: “You take the giraffe out, and put the elephant in.”

3. The Lion King is hosting a huge party for all the Animal Kingdom, and everyone’s invited. But, one animal does not show up- what animal does not show up?
Adults ask a bunch of good questions, like: “Are humans part of the animal kingdom?” “Can it be an animal that became extinct?” “Where is the party?” “Is there water nearby so that fish can attend?” Etc.
Without hesitation, most kids answer: “The elephant, because it’s in the refrigerator.”

4. There’s a small river that is usually infested by deadly crocodiles, and you need to cross it. How do you get across?
Adults would ask: “Is there a boat?” “How many crocs?” “Is there wood nearby to build a bridge?” Etc.
Children will answer: “You swim across because the crocodiles are at the party.”

Are you knocking your head against a wall? I did. However, the important thing here isn’t that adults don’t get it right and kids do. The moral of the story is that although details/analysis/discussion is good, in order to be a good leader we sometimes need to look beyond the obstacles and simply say, “Just open the door and put the giraffe in.” It definitely would have cut my train ride down by 30 minutes.

To learn more about the NAMIC leadership forum go to www.namic.com

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