Reading to children can make you a better leader

I was told of the benefits of reading to children. It would aid in their development, help them acquire a love for learning and strengthen the bond between parent and child. But I did not count on the collateral or ancillary advantages I would receive. Of course, I was excited and encouraged by the interaction and the way I was able to connect to my children. But, with each story, nursery rhyme or fable I began to associate their content with the people I managed in the workplace. Their content gave me new insights into executing my role as a leader.

When I returned to work I found that I began to incorporate some of the very language and concepts from the literature I read to my kids the night before. Aesop’s Fables were always good with life lessons. Androcles and the lion taught me the value of helping everyone no matter how small because you never knew when they could help you. The story was about a mouse who returned a favor by saving a lion that was caught in a hunter’s net. The Emperor’s new clothes by Hans Christian Andersen had many applications to corporate culture. The failure to speak to power brought on by fear and ego was a natural metaphor. The practice of using children literature to clarify leadership principles is widespread today with articles and books about the Goldilocks Leadership Style. There are books such as, The Oz Principle by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman, and Our Emperor’s have no clothes by Alan Weiss and Emperor’s Clothes by Catherine Mc Guinness. They use the aforementioned classic as inspiration for their works.

Reading children stories make managerial principles fresh and exciting. Many people can relate to them and feel connected to the subject. It takes us back to our childhood and the rich and often forgotten lessons from our youth. I read the classic fable of the hare and the tortoise. I walked into work with a new perspective. The morale of the story is that “plodding wins the race,” emphasizing the value of persistence. But when I arrived at work, I placed a different spin on the classic story. I asked my managers, “Who would you rather be the hare or the tortoise?” After a light discussion, I announced that I would rather be a hare that did not sleep. In our fast paced world, a company could seldom afford to hire a large number of workers who always started and finished slowly. We needed people to get out of the starting blocks quickly, master the information around their jobs and get up the learning curve in record time. We needed speed merchants who were confident, with stamina and awareness of the danger of underestimating their competition and the needs of their customers.

Another principle that was reinforced was the idea of performing with a winning attitude, while may have involved faking it until making it was a reality. My daughter was nearly 3 years old and was at the swimming pool with my wife and her mother. She was reciting a book out loud. It was the book I read to her before bed. As she moved to the bottom of each page, she moved her eyes to the top of the next page or turned the page as appropriate. “The man was flabbergasted,” she said. A woman next to her was astonished by her apparent reading skills at such a young age. She did not realize that my daughter had merely memorized every word on every page in the book and turned the pages appropriately, on her way to learning how to read. As leaders we must sometimes show courage and strength in a positive outcome even when we are not 100% certain, until the result is achieved.

I found the following benefits from my bonding moments with my children that I used with my teams that had leadership implications.

1. I listened better because they gave me their undivided attention and asked questions. They wanted to know the why, the back story behind the story. This is similar to the teams we manage. People want to know the content and the context.
2. Children enjoy when you are enthusiastic when reading a story. I was animated and displayed passion in my delivery and interpretation of the story.
3. I had to adapt a reading style that brought each child into the moment. If one child was quiet and the other easily distracted, I had to individualize and customize my reading style, make stronger eye contact and gestures to ensure that both were engaged in the story.
4. I selected stories for them which were my favorites from childhood. This helped reinforce messages that I had forgotten. Some of the fairytales and nursery rhymes were originally written as political satire which helped explain the appeal to some adults. Looking for other ways to use the information helped broaden my perspective.
5. Reading taught me the value of play and including humor in my conversation and interactions with my children and my people.
6. The value of discipline and a set routine, along with the value of commitment to my promises by reading every night I was in town. If I was traveling out of town, I read to them over the telephone to keep my word. When there are challenges there are always ways to improvise to fulfill promises made on the important things in life.

We should look forward to reading to our children or to any children who could benefit from our time and attention. There are organizations such as Real Men Read which place adults in local schools to read to children. The men participating are receiving some of the same benefits I outlined above. The benefits are achieved whether you are reading to your children or any willing child sitting in front of you to hear your passionate delivery of a new book or a childhood classic

Additionally, we know that, “Children are born ready to learn and reading to them stimulates and satisfies their thirst for information. Children cultivate 85% of their intellect, personality and skills by age five. The first months and years of life set the stage for lifelong development,” according the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000. Reading to them at an early age is a tremendous advantage for them. However, the returns to the adults are exceptionally stimulating. When we think of the input into the creative process that is triggered when we read and visualize the images; the reinforcement of key values and the lessons to help illustrate leadership principles, reading to children should be a consistent and mandatory part of our lives.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

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