Meet Joey, my 5 year old nephew.
How do I know he has imagination? I spent 30 minutes alone with him in a car on the way to grandma’s house recently. You see, it was during those 30 or so miles, that I learned all about the policeman who had visited his kindergarten class. And from that, (through the eyes of a little boy), all the things cops do and what happens if you don’t do what they say.
Our next topic was all about his friends. He has a bunch of friends at school – both girls and boys. The girls like him, of course, but he doesn’t like them. And he has some best buddies he likes to play with at recess.
Our car trip occurred around Halloween so that opened the door for ideas on great costumes for everyone in our family. For the record, I was supposed to be a ballerina – complete with a pink tutu. He was going to be Darth Vader.
Now you have to know this little boy to really appreciate all his ideas and perspectives. And honestly, I had to keep my laughter inside a good bit of our chat. But our ride was the highlight of my weekend.
So of course, it got me to thinking. Is there a leadership lesson here? I had a captive audience for 30 minutes because our trip required it. But in the workplace, don’t the same opportunities exist?
Here are three takeaways I believe we can learn from time with a five year old:
#1 Everyone craves one on one time with you.
My nephew is one of 5 siblings. Every chance they get for one on one attention is taken – those rare moments when the game or conversation is all about them.
Your employees are just the same. They want you to know them personally – what makes them tick, what is going on in their world, and most importantly, the chance to interact with you. As a leader, time with you really is a big deal, whether they act like it or not.
#2 They should talk more than you.
When given the chance, my nephew is quite a talker. And all it usually takes is a question or two. And from there, all I have to do is guide the conversation with more questions. Truth be told, I can find out all kinds of “fun stuff” this way. But in most cases, he just wants me to listen.
Your employees are no different. If you will be intentional and spend even 10 minutes with each employee every week, with no agenda, you will be amazed at how they will open up. Engagement and connection with others at work (often called community) is critical during this difficult economic climate. Employees who know you care (by how you ask questions and interact) are the employees who tough it out and choose to stay when opportunities to leave the company arise.
#3 What you learn may surprise you.
I got a glimpse into the imagination of my nephew by just listening. His understanding of the good guys and bad guys amazed me (he’s a fan of cops by the way). I loved hearing his perspective come alive.
In the workplace, what your employees know may also surprise you. In most scenarios, they are closer to your customer and other employees than anyone else. Who better to ask to learn more about ways to improve service or identify new business ideas?
In addition, your employees are also where the perception of reality lives. We (management) often think we are being clear and have communicated often and early enough about business decisions. And sadly, there is more often a disconnect in what employees understand.
So since our car ride, Halloween has come and gone. I didn’t dress up as a ballerina but Joey was Darth Vader. And since then, he has spent the weekend with Aunt Kay Kay. Those 30 minutes I loved in the car turned in to 2 days. My benefit: just priceless.