Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Guest Post: Leadership Lessons from a Kindergarten Class


Today’s post comes from Jim Holland. Jim’s passion is enabling product marketing teams. With over 20 years of technology experience, he has a fresh and unique perspective in guiding and managing product teams and has a knack for synthesizing conceptual ideas and turning them into reality. Enjoy the post and don’t hesitate to tweet your comments to Jim directly.

What can a classroom full of bright-eyed and energized kindergartners teach you about leadership? A lot!

My wife is a gifted Kindergarten teacher. She’s a tuned-in educator who engages each child with the attention of a ninja master. During the school year, I’ve been asked to come in and help, so I’m well acquainted with each personality in the group and the “good morning Mr. Holland” that accompanies each visit. Near the end of this school year, my wife asked if I could complete a project with her class. The project was to ask each student, and record the answers to: “What was the most important thing I learned in Kindergarten this year?” I decided to use this as research into the minds of 6 year olds and to see what leadership attributes the kids had acquired over the months.

The project was fun, the one-on-one discussions great and the content was included in each student’s journal for them to keep. Below are the responses and how often they were mentioned without any coaching on my part:

  • I learned how to Read (4)
  • I learned my A-B-Cs (4)
  • I learned more about mathematics (3)
  • I learned why we should wash our hands (1)
  • I discovered the library and books (2)
  • I learned we have RULES (1)
  • I learned respect for my teacher (4)
  • I learned Fire Safety (1)
  • I learned how to make friends and to share (5)
  • I learned about Art (2)
  • I learned computer skills and terminology (2)

While this project would create a lot of input for how to sense your markets and how to interview one-on-one, I want to share some leadership qualities that each of us should possess – qualities learned in Kindergarten.

Your ABCs and 123s – From the first day of Kindergarten, great teachers assess individual needs, capabilities and prepare materials, activities and learning experiences for each student. As leaders, we need to follow the same by actively assessing the capabilities of each team member, understand their personalities, strengths and challenges and identify ways improve their contribution. As with any good Kindergarten teacher, when was the last time you conducted an assessment or gap analysis of each team member? As a leader do you have regular (formal and informal) one-on-one discussions with your team? These are not performance reviews or interrogation sessions, but time allocated to listening, understanding and addressing issues while building confidence and educating. Do you hold regular sessions to build business, corporate or other knowledge? I’m not talking about boring staff meetings. I’m talking interactive sessions where you or others members of your team lead sessions on topics that were identified by you or the team.

Washing Your Hands – Kindergartners learn, if you don’t want to get sick or spread germs, you should wash your hands regularly. Every leader has to create, maintain and show integrity. Are you the type of leader that passes “germs” to his team and organization with negative comments about individuals and management? Do you build integrity by maintaining individual, team and corporate confidentiality? Are you keeping your “hands clean” so the team trust and relies on you?

Rules – Kindergartners as well as leaders learn that rules are established as a pattern of consistency. Are there rules or guidance that you have established with your team? Do you set the example by following the team, department or company guidelines without failure? Kindergartners know the consequences for breaking the rules include removal of privileges or the dreaded visit to the principal’s office. As a leader you have to set and maintain realistic expectations and “rules” for your team.

Fire Safety – a colleague once commented; “never burn a bridge, for you might have to cross the river again and walking over rushing water is easier than swimming through it.” As leadership, we have to create and sustain relationships with individuals, teams, executives, customers and perhaps shareholders, investors and industry analysts. Leadership isn’t just about directing a group of people, projects or things. It’s about open communication that creates credibility for you and your team. Create “fire safety” in your team by looking for ways to improve team communication that will lead to better internal and external collaboration.

Sharing – Kindergartners recognize one of the most important aspects of class (team) dynamics is learning to share and making friends. As a leader, are you building the team by sharing knowledge, insights, corporate shifts, and changes with the team. What methods do you use to socialize new information? Do you send a few emails late on Friday afternoon, or actively interact with the team and share? Do you build awareness and share the success and challenges of your team’s accomplishments with senior management? If not, why not? Even a kindergartner knows you need an advocate who’s willing to stand on your behalf.

My experiences this year with my wife’s Kindergarten class have given me some great insights into how leaders can assemble or build teams by learning each personality, assessing specific needs, creating a plan to teach and share and building others by involving the strengths of the team to accomplish the goal.

If you like the post, please comment. If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.

The Product Management Perspective (as Mike would say): Each leader must understand and apply his team’s personality, capabilities and business experience to build and execute successfully. Using the Kindergarten approach may simplify daily leadership and create new levels of credibility and visibility for your team.

9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Leadership Lessons from a Kindergarten Class

  1. And “When you go out in the world, hold hands.” It’s easier and more fun to do customer interviews with a colleague.

  2. — I learned we have RULES (1)

    I bet this was a boy! 🙂

  3. I remember learning to say please and thank you.

    Amazing how far that still goes in the world today.

  4. Pingback: A new Leadership Development Carnival « Lead on Purpose

  5. I learned my A-B-Cs…Indeed, by understanding the basic personality types, the leader can use individual strengths of members for the good of the team, as well as assign tasks that individual team members naturally excel.

    Elvis Ukpaka
    Leadership Coach

  6. Pingback: Leadership and Kindergarten :: ProductMarketing.com

  7. Pingback: Leadership principles acquired from Kindergarten « Where the Product Management Tribe Gathers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s