Lessons from Children: Leading with Empowering, Authentic Love.

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Originally Published in Healthcare Executive NOV/DEC 2023

Written by: David L. Schreiner, PhD, FACHE, president/CEO of Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital, Dixon, Ill. and Melanie M. Miller, Exceptional Student Education teacher

As we gain experience and become wiser with age, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned and pass them on to the next generation. Grandparents and leaders share common goals for our grandchildren and employees: happiness, independence and productivity. The lessons we learn from children can help us lead more effectively, and we can pass these lessons on to others.

Too often, leaders overlook the power of appreciation and fail to ask the right questions. What if we used the same approach we use with children and applied it to our staff to encourage growth and development? Following are some leadership lessons to consider from that lens.

Ask Meaningful Questions

If you want to create a positive work environment, it’s essential to make sure your staff feels heard and appreciated. One way to do this is by asking them the right questions and listening intently to the responses.

When kids come home from school, we often ask them, “How was school?” When the standard answer is “nothing,” perhaps a better ques-tion is, “Can you tell me three things that made school fun today?” Research shows that we remember things in threes, and many indus-tries abide by this “rule of three” in their business and marketing prac-tices. But the real power of this question is that it gets kids talking and sharing. They don’t realize they’re communicating meaning-fully because they’re having fun with an appreciative audience.

This approach can also work with staff. Instead of asking, “What hap-pened at work today?” try saying, “Tell me three things that happened today that made you proud to work here.” For example, you could ask them to share three things they accomplished that day or three things they learned. This gets them talking and helps them focus on the positive aspects of their day. When people feel appreciated, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated at work.

Let Them Finish Their Thought

Time constraints and impatience lead to one of the biggest things leaders should avoid doing: inter-rupting their staff. Children with slower processing speeds need more time to speak their thoughts, and some of these children become adults with slower processing speeds. Interrupting someone sends the message that you are uninterested in what they have to say. This can be demotivating.

Instead, always let your staff members finish their thoughts. This demonstrates that you value their input and are willing to listen. If the conversation turns negative, flip it back to thinking from a place of abundance. For example, instead of dwelling on what went wrong, ask them what could have happened to make it better.

Focusing on solutions rather than problems creates a positive environment that encourages creativity, innovation and efficiency. People are more likely to take risks and try new things when they feel supported and appreciated.

Build Trust

Trust is an essential component of any positive work environment. If you want to build trust with your staff, you need to make sure they feel safe and valued. One way to do this is to eliminate criticism from your rounding practice.

Instead of focusing on what people are doing wrong, focus on what they’re doing well and how they can challenge themselves. For example, consider an employee who has frequent tardiness. Rather than criticizing the staff member for their tardiness, a leader can ask what the employer can do to help the employee, such as adjusting schedules or seeking assistance from colleagues. By taking this approach, you create a positive learning environment that encourages growth and development.

Learning new things can be challenging—for kids and adults. Another way to build trust is responding to employees’ “I can’t” or “this is too hard” statements with “it’s hard because you haven’t learned it yet.” Allowing an employee the opportunity to step back to their own confident and independent performance level can establish trust. Work backward to their proficiency and then build skills from there.

Focus on the Learners

We should honor our team members as individuals. It’s important to remember that everyone learns differently. To be an effective leader, you need to understand your staff members’ learning styles and tailor your approach to meet their needs. Pay attention to the learners when observing a leader who is presenting to a team. What do the learners react to, and how do they react?

Understanding and facilitating to your staff’s learning style can create a positive learning environment that encourages growth and development. Present in a fun and interactive way. Try various mediums, such as employee forums, video, email and chat to engage employees around important issues. Remember the “rule of three.”

Leadership in Practice

Leadership is more than just telling people what to do. It’s about creating a positive environment that encourages growth and development. By asking the right questions, letting them finish their thought, building trust and focusing on the learners, you can create a culture of appreciation that will benefit everyone.

By incorporating these lessons into our leadership practices, we can help create a positive work environment where the staff feels valued, supported and motivated. These principles can help you become a more effective and compassionate leader while creating a better future for yourself and those who will follow in your footsteps.


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