Every leader would like to believe that he or she is exercising power that has been rightfully earned, in order to get work done for the best results. In the process though, there is an inherent tug-of-war at play between positional power and pressure to deliver better than before. The collateral damage of this clash is often borne by colleagues, peers, subordinates and sometimes, unfortunately, even family!
When the going is tough and the need of the hour is to step away from the beaten-path to make game-changing moves, most leaders are often found wanting. The ability to take calculated risks and back innovative ideas pretty much separates the great leaders from the rest. Somehow, these leaders seem to possess the curiosity, passion and the ability to demonstrate equanimity under all circumstances. They are also able to identify game-changing opportunities despite being involved in fire-fighting or overseeing mundane tasks. For them, there are no issues to be sorted, only opportunities to be sought and tapped. They are honest enough to state the obvious however bitter it may be and quick to applaud initiative and that gives them the clarity of thought needed to make quick, inclusive decisions. Their teams willingly back them since there is no second-guessing or sycophancy needed to perform and be recognized.
The million-rupee question is how are they able to do what they do? The answer may lie in an old Vedic dictum that prophesizes that a man can discover GOD within when he allows the child in him to thrive. Essentially, what the sages were trying to tell us is that being child-like at all times is the ultimate measure of evolution, however paradoxical that may sound. The famous English poet William Wordsworth also echoed this thought. But we’ll keep that for later. For now, we will see how this is true for business leaders as well.
So, what are those five child-like characteristics that a good leader should nurture and demonstrate, day in and day out?
1) Be innocent: Yes, you read that right. However difficult it is for us adults to believe in the value of this trait, it is perhaps the most powerful among the lot that a child possesses.
As a leader of a team or teams, one must be innocent in thought, words and actions. This is the foundation of trust. It doesn’t mean being naïve or gullible. Rather, it is a quality that defines authenticity and clarity. Communication is then a free-way without barriers and that opens up tremendous possibilities. Followers willingly speak their mind knowing fully well that their leader is genuine, non-judgmental and unbiased. Ideas begin to flow out easily, collaboration is a given and hence breakthrough business results happen!
2) Be curious: Remember when you were a child and everything that happened around you was new and magical? In hindsight, we’re quick to dismiss that as ‘child-like curiosity’ but that is in fact an unmatched asset every good leader should possess.
You are then able to continuously and unwaveringly look for opportunities subconsciously. As a leader, you look for talent that is waiting to blossom, you listen to all, you see everything with delight and full involvement. It becomes a happy habit to seek, accept and celebrate ideas from anyone, whatever their position or role. Finding game-changing ideas is then an inherent talent and there is never a dearth of information or solutions when needed. What happens as a result? There is never a lack of motivation or passion and achieving results is a piece of cake!
3) Be stubborn: Throwing tantrums and not letting up till they’ve got what they wanted is but a natural thing for children. They are masters at the game and seem to find newer ways each time! More importantly, they seem to possess an inexhaustible reserve of stubbornness no matter how big or small the need. This is what driven leaders also possess in abundance.
But being stubborn does not in any way mean being unfair and demanding to the point of being overbearing. The stubborn child is able to extract what it wants by being persuasive, friendly, lovable and convincing. As a leader, if you are able back your instinct/ gut-call, to fix your mind on a goal and go after it like a stubborn child, you will discover that the team will come around to supporting and collaborating with you to achieve it.
4) Be forgiving: Remember those silly fights with mates that never lasted more than a few seconds? Remember how easy it was to swear never to speak again and get back to noisy banter, fun and laughter? Well, if you are a leader, you must be forgiving by nature. You might have set very high standards for yourself and hence reached where you have but that should not make you demanding and unforgiving towards subordinates and colleagues. It could also be that your role demands superior standards but that should not mean failure or mistakes are unacceptable.
After all, we’re all humans and we’re bound to falter now and then, right? If you can forgive easily and caringly, your Emotional Intelligence comes through in such a way that peers, colleagues and subordinates begin to trust and love you. More significantly, the idea-ramans in the team will never hesitate to share their latest idea or suggestion which could prove game-changing!
5) Be playful: Yes. Let the child in you play at work. Never take yourself, your role/ designation or what you do, too seriously! Remember the mischievous child, always ready to play a prank or two, never hesitating to diffuse an angry moment with monkey-faces? Well, that child is needed all the more, every time you climb the corporate ladder towards greater leadership.
The playful leader enjoys every little event, celebrates those inconsequential successes and applauds merrily. More importantly for the organization, this leader handles so-called pressure situations with an unaffected gaiety that is infectious! Playful leaders manage to convert work into play for everyone in the team and that transforms organizational culture like nothing else can!
Did you find resonance with these traits? Do you still have doubts about actually practicing these in real life? Well, all you have to do is observe closely the shenanigans of children at home and if possible, participate in their fun! William Wordsworth suggested that ‘The child is the father of man’ in his famous poem ‘The Rainbow’ and indeed there is so much to learn from children that Leaders would do well to take their little ones more seriously, don’t you agree? You never know – the next BIG idea might just come from your child’s silly game or innocuous comment! Better still would be for you, the leader, to rediscover, nurture and unleash the child in you to lead the way… So go ahead! Be child-like and play!
By Nandakishore Padmanabhan