When Graham Nash sings, "Teach your children well," it can also mean the reverse. Children can remind you as an adult about what makes life so important-- even when you get distracted by work.
Trust, loyalty, adventure, excitement, fun and other traits that make childhood so special can have direct applications to leadership. By entering a state of play and wonder, you can block out noise and regain purpose. It will also help you cut through unnecessary anxiety and take risks with confidence.
Children are focused. No, I don't mean teenagers swiping through various apps on their smartphones, I'm talking about very young children who tend to get lost in what they are doing. They hang on every word of a bedtime story or get immersed in a fantasy that, for them, is a suspended reality.
You as a company leader can benefit from such unwavering commitment. Just as children naturally have no other obligations than the task before them, you can train yourself and your managers to be just as steadfast. This can mean cutting off distractions like email or simply shutting the office door, because only then can an idea come to life.
Children take risks. When it snows, they jump right in, and when it rains they don't mind getting wet. They don't survey the competition or worry about the response from the market. They go for it. In the same way, you as a leader can benefit from calculated risk-taking. Constant experimentation and routine idea generation is how start-ups grow into Fortune 500 success stories. Rewarding innovative ideas, even when they fail, is how breakthroughs happen.
Children trust others. The younger they are, the more they know they will be fed, won't be abandoned, and that someone will be there when they cry. That inherent trust children possess is an essential trait for you as a company leader, because you have better things to do than looking over the shoulders of your management team.
You build trust by involving people in the decisions that may directly affect them, as opposed to forcing a top-down agenda. It's your job to explain which actions get rewarded and which ones do not. Being transparent will help you walk away knowing that your surrogates have it covered.
Children have fun. Remember fun? You should. The workplace isn't a playhouse, but from time to time there should be elements of fun to bring your team closer together. At my firm, we have hosted Hawaiian Shirt Day, Stress Down Day (an afternoon to enjoy food and games together) and Glop Day (a celebration of ice cream), to give the staff a chance to decompress. To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we took every member of our staff and their families on a four-day, all-expense-paid trip to Disney World. For our 25th anniversary in 2012, we did it again. More than 1,200 people had fun together in Orlando.
You may not want to be a kid again, but tapping into those childhood traits will make you a better leader.