Monthly Archives: September 2012

Everything I learnt about managing people I learnt in kindergarten

I thought managing people would get easier as I got older and theoretically wiser.  Instead I find myself questioning every decision I make, replaying every conversation I have in my head and at the end of the day wondering if clinging to ideals like integrity are just too old fashioned for the modern business world.

My first kinder class, South Korea 2005

I have been a manger for over ten years and have done numerous leadership and management training courses. I have a suite of models and tools that tell me how to give instructions, coaching, feedback, set expectations, and enhance performance.  After a week of ups and downs and round abouts what I realise is that everything I draw upon to be the best manager I can be for my team I learnt teaching kindergarten.

For two years I taught English to a class of four-year-old South Koreans.  They were enthusiastic, fun, and adorable.  They were also noisy, sneaky and loved running with scissors.  I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.  Somehow I had to teach them basic English, stop them falling off their chairs and impart a love of learning.  As a rather large and white stranger I had to earn their trust.  I also had to wear jeans to stop them trying to hide under my skirts.

An unusually successful day of using scissors

I had to learn to be very clear in my instructions and lead by example.  I had to protect and keep them safe from harm but in a way that didn’t dampen their sense of fun and curiosity.  I had to teach them that putting your hand in for the Hokey Pokey was not the same as putting your finger into the door jam.  I had to remember most of all that they had a very different point of view than I did and that was a good thing.  But the hardest thing was being able to see the consequences some of their actions would bring and having the strength to stand back and let them make a thousand small mistakes so they could learn for themselves.

Now, years later as a manager I am still trying to find that strength.  The strength to let some of the most gifted, talented and passionate people I know working in some of the most demanding conditions make their own way.  Just like with my kinder students most of the time all I really want to do is give my team big hugs and tell them that everything is fine.  But when I think of the best managers that I have had, they never just told me it was fine.  They challenged me, pushed me, encouraged me, overloaded me and when it came down to it they always had my back.

Yep, he is getting ready to jump off his desk!

And like my kinder students knew I would always be there to catch them when they jumped off their desks, I want to manage in a way that my team always knows I will be there for them too.

What about you?  What do you think makes a good manager?

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What to do when the Triple C defense faulters

Suicide bombers are getting me down.  I’ve been reading about them for five days in preparation for writing a research paper and it is a little disturbing.  Usually I combat the serious topics of my Masters degree in International Crisis Management with chocolate, cartoons and cocktails.  I call it the Triple C defense.  Lately though I have needed more than chocolate to keep the sweetness in my life.  So here is a collection of short shout outs to the people that have kept me inspired and on track this week.

The Whitney Houston Moment

No this is not about The Bodyguard.   Before she was always loving Kevin Costner she was giving us ‘the greatest love of all’. Back in June I met a local school principal in Senegal. I don’t normally like school principals and certainly any discussion I’ve had with ones in the past usually resulted me sitting in a room on my own for 50 minutes.  This one though was different.  Within moments of talking with him I found myself wanting to break out singing ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’

He had left his hometown and traveled to this very small remote area of Senegal because he believes every child has a basic right to education.  He spoke with so much hope and affection for his students.  He was working with the community to ensure access to education for all; he was encouraging parents to even let their daughters go to school.  When I told him that earlier that day I had interviewed one of his female students and she and her mother had said their biggest hope for their future was to finish school and not enter into an early marriage he clasped his hands together, looked to the sky and whispered a thank you.  Everything about him was hopeful, and now when I need a reminder of what hope means I just look at his picture, take a moment to sit back and smile.   Then I just get on with it.

The reality check

She walked into the room and sat at the end of the table silently.  We continued our monthly meeting for a few minutes and then when the usual business was concluded we asked her to speak.  The moment she opened her mouth we knew it was our turn to be silent.  She was quiet, modest, strong and beautiful.  As the Communications Director for World Vision Pakistan she gave us a small insight into her time working as a single, white, young, female in one of the most complex international development situations.  I didn’t take my eyes of her the entire time she was speaking.  Not cos I’m creepy but because she had a real grace about her.  You do hear a lot of war stories in this industry and they are sometimes worn as a badge of honour.  But she wasn’t like that.   The impact of her talk was more in the pauses than the words.  Her smiles, laughs, directness and truths wove together to show the tight rope of harsh realities and hopeful futures we all walk at some point in our lives.

My fairy ‘fashionista’ godmother

I am not a fashion model and I have given up trying to have style.  But this week, I found myself caring a lot about my appearance.  I had a rather important meeting and I was nervous; so nervous that I was completely freaking out about what to wear.  This is unusual for me as I own five pairs of jeans, nine white tops and that’s really all I wear, simple, easy and no colour coordination required.  Unfortunately I couldn’t don my standard outfit for this meeting.  Enter my fairy ‘fashionista’ godmother.  With a whirl and a twirl I found myself laden with gorgeous dresses from my friend’s wardrobe with hints of what shoes and jackets would match.  It is not so much the clothes that made my day, though they were pretty awesome.  It was the kindness and support from someone that has only been a friend for a short time.  What to her might seem like a small act or gesture to me was amazing.  It reminded me that despite some of the knocks you take there is always kindness out there if you keep yourself open to it.

 

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This week’s special: $2,000 worth of bills with a side serving of guilt

$2,000.  That is the amount of bills that arrived in the mail this week.  With them came four pieces of mail from the respective charities that I support, two domestic and two international, all asking for money.  I also work for a charity, which is code for I care more about what I do than what I earn.  At the moment caring is becoming financially taxing.  I have looked at my budget five times today, each time hoping that my poor maths skills have meant I have somehow missed a zero or a comma and that my finances aren’t as bad as I think they are.

I start to strategise about how I can possibly reduce my expenditure.  I could give up chocolate.  Yeah I know I laughed out loud at that suggestion too.  I could cut back on my social life, but I already did that last year.  I tried going without heating for a few days but now have a cold.  It annoys me that as I sit in my comfortable two bedroom rented apartment and slowly sip on my homemade (ok fine it is from a can) pumpkin soup that I am thinking about money and feeling sorry for myself when I every time I close my eyes I see the faces of people I have met in India, Ethiopia and Senegal that have so much less.

Guilt is an odd thing.  Moral justification is even stranger.  There are all kinds of counseling tools that they give aid workers to help manage the paradoxes we see, hear and live everyday.  Nine out of ten times they work.  That one time though, that one time keeps you up at night.

It’s not all miserable of course.  I have managed to find enough money for a short holiday in Malaysia and even splurged on a new pair of jeans since my current pair has developed a hole in a rather awkward place.   And catch up TV does provide good entertainment for sleepless nights.  I just have to keep focused on what this is all about.  So I’ll make myself another cup of tea and have a piece of chocolate, watch some mindless cartoons and trust that tomorrow my calculator will allow one and one to equal three.

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