It Takes a Village: Workplace Lessons From Children

May is Teacher Appreciation Month. Without doubt the men and women who devote their lives to educating our children deserve infinite gratitude. Valuable lessons, though, are often taught by family members, neighbors, friends, coaches and church members, among others. We are all members of the proverbial village it takes to raise a child, and we need to recognize the opportunities we have to impart precious knowledge to the next generation. At the same time, we need to appreciate the intrinsic ability children have to be our teachers. Through the eyes of a child, valuable lessons can be learned, including those which make us better leaders at work. It is critical to long-term success, at home and at work, that values be shared, not just across generations, but also spillover from work to home and vice versa.

The job of the adult is to help the child grow and develop and learn how to function in life; the adult who can also recognize the child as a teacher can learn some life skills that might improve their own life experience.

Prioritizing, communicating and managing conflict, necessary principles in the workplace, should not clock out at 5, just as lessons often learned at home (empathy and risk taking, for example) cannot only work the night shift. “Our children are probably our best and most honest judges; they provide the most direct, trusting performance evaluation we’ll ever get,” Jelena Zikic writes on the positive spillover between parenting and managing employees.

Other high-value positive spillovers to appreciate include:

Accountability – “Embrace the Red.” Adults and children alike tend to hold others accountable to promises made and quickly make known others’ mistakes, yet are often slow to admit their own. Children, however are excellent teachers in resilience, bouncing back quickly from a time-out or scolding. They are also open to constructive criticism. As adults, we must model accounting for our choices, and learning from our mistakes. Zikic asserts that in order for positive spillovers to occur, self-reflecting is crucial. “If we don’t question our existing ways of doing things,’ she writes, ‘we can’t learn, and we can’t improve.”

Adaptability – “Children challenge us to accept that stability is not normal and that developing the readiness to deal with uncertainty and accept new daily challenges. The same sets of skills are an asset in today’s workforce,” according to Zikic. As companies, leaders and employees, we must model adaptability. Life isn’t static and neither can we be if we wish to evolve.

Time Management – A crucial skill of adulthood is managing the time you’re given. Along with prioritizing tasks, adults are expected to meet deadlines and manage a workload at the office. The same is true of the hours spent outside of the office. Paying bills on time, fitting people into your schedule and taking time for self-care are just three examples.

One of the biggest hurdles facing the village is work-life balance. Harvard Business Review writer Sabina Nawaz suggests one way to effectively share your values with children without adding to an already heavy load is to “explore values through discussing real-life dilemmas.” This includes age-appropriate discussions with children about issues faced at the office as well as discussions surrounding children’s concerns in their own lives.

Work Matters – As Vikram Seth believed, “I think if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And worth thinking about it as well.” For children, chores have the ability to teach that individual contributions matter to the whole, effectively also teaching teamwork and cooperation necessary for the adult working world.

Money Matters – Just as chores are the starting point for teaching work matters, allowances and having to spend their own money for desired purchases are frequently the starting points for balancing finances. While adults teach children the economic value of a dollar many times it is children who provide lessons on generosity. It is frequently also through the eyes of a child we are taught a dollar is not worth giving up our values or our greatest treasure, them.

As the school year winds down and school teachers get a much deserved (albeit short) break, there are many changes which occur within homes and companies.  Summer vacations may require shifting of personnel and/or the hiring of temporary workers. Summer interns come aboard, volunteers come (and go) and geographic relocations are at their peak. This is, therefore, a prime time to speed up the learning curve.

In every village, there are important lessons to be learned. And one of the most important lessons we can learn from children is that every single day is a fresh start and that every waking (and even non-waking) moment can be an opportunity to learn something new.