Ever feel sick of your job? Frustrated with your employees, ignored by your customers, overworked, over-tired, or overwhelmed? Try this simple mental adjustment: Take yourself back to about five years old. If you have an actual five-year-old at home this might be particularly easy. But even if you don't, imagine yourself into that state of mind.
How will this help you? Because a five-year-old way of looking at the world will let you engage the parts of your mind that were excited about your job once upon a time. It will give you a fresh perspective on everything you do. Best of all, taking a child's point of view is often the best way to tackle a problem or find a new innovation. Here's a look at how a child's approach can change your outlook and leadership style for the better:
1. Children question everything.
"Go brush your teeth."
"So you won't get cavities."
"Because if you get too many cavities you can lose all your teeth."
"Because I said so, that's why!"
There probably isn't an adult alive who hasn't had a frustrating conversation like this one. But consider for a moment what would happen if you took this same questioning spirit (in a less bratty way) to some of the decisions you have to make as a business leader. Ask "why?" enough times, and sometimes the answer will be, "Because that's the way we've always done and it we've never stopped to consider anything else." Which might lead you to consider something else.
Steve Jobs was a master at bringing this childlike questioning genius to product design. When engineers told him the original iPhone just had to have more than one button, his rigorous questioning of their assumptions, and his child-like his insistence that they do it his way, led to one of the most successful product designs in history. (Here are some more lessons one entrepreneur learned by working for Jobs.)
2. Children say what they mean.
Most children won't come up with a white lie to spare someone's feelings. They don't worry about how what they say will affect the bottom line, or the balance of power in a department, or their future careers. They look at a situation, and say exactly what they think about it.
I'm not suggesting you communicate in the unfiltered way a five-year-old would. But sometimes we spend so much effort thinking about what we should be saying and how our words will be perceived and acted on that we lose sight of our own simple truth, whatever that is. Go back to your five-year-old self, and that simple truth will to re-emerge.
3. Children are generous.
At least most are, most of the time. Yes, they sometimes are masters of selfishness, but in my experience, most children will share what they have and worry about other family members and pets when they aren't well. They approach the world with open hands and open hearts and they want everyone around them to be happy. Bring some of that same spirit into your workplace, and you can't help but make it better.
4. Children don't hold grudges.
For one thing, they don't have long enough memories or a good enough sense of the future to hold on to an ill feeling for long. I'm always amazed at how children can be bawling at maximum volume one minute, and then happily distracted by an interesting sight or a toy the next.
That's a great approach when you come upon business setbacks and frustrations. Bawl as loud as you can--even if only inside your head--for just a few minutes. And then move on to something else. (Here's more on how to keep setbacks from derailing you.)
5. Children aren't afraid to change their minds.
It's important of course to be consistent and honor your commitments. And if you change direction on a frequent basis, you're likely to confuse both your employees and your customers. But many of us see sticking to a decision or a course of action as part of being a grown-up, and that can blind us when we truly need to change course.
Children are bound by no such inhibitions. The fact that they said they hate cereal yesterday won't keep them from gobbling it down today. Mark Zuckerberg has a reputation for giving things a fresh look and sometimes changing his point of view, even after he's made a decision. Sometimes that's the right approach.
So, at least once in a while, look at your past decisions and rethink them as though they were brand new. Are you heading in the wrong direction? Do you now think there's a better approach? It may be a little confusing to the people who work with you, and worst of all, a little embarrassing. But give yourself permission to change your opinion about a problem. Being open to change may mean finding a new direction, or it may mean you simply confirm what you'd already decided. (Here are some other ways to tell when it's time to start over.)
6. Children see everything as an adventure.
To children, the world is a place of constant wonder, and the simplest outing or activity can seem like a game or a safari in their eyes. Richard Branson is just one of many entrepreneurs who seem to bring this brand of child-like wonder to everything they do.
If something seems boring, go at it as a five-year-old would. Turn it into a game. Imagine ways to change it around. You just may discover a different, better, or at least more interesting approach to the same boring task.