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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6 Comments

Filed under Leadership

6 responses to “Everything I learnt about managing people I learnt in kindergarten

  1. One of the things I value most is integrity – in others (whether they be friends, colleagues, bosses, family) and more importantly in myself. I learnt many years ago that everyone is different and life changes you but to be true to yourself, your values and your ideals about the way of the world is the way to finding your own sense of peace (without getting all om-ish on you!)

    I think leading anything or anyone is always a double edged sword. Exasperating and infuriating and filled with moments of self doubt but the moments (like this one for me, reading your post) when you get that you made a difference in some small way are the ones that make me proud (and a little humbled).

    Thanks for sharing – I have no doubt your team – just like your Korean kindy class – will make you proud too. x

  2. worldbeatboy

    Without trust and integrity there is no loyalty……

    • Wise words…some more wise words I though worthy of sharing

      “Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.”
      Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969);
      Founder Of The Japanese Martial Art Akido

  3. George

    I wanna be managed by you!! But will probably also leave a small poo hidden in a draw…just like I did at kindy! x

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