What I learned about being a manager from my toddler

By Beth Caron

Business and leadership lessons arrive in the strangest packages, sometimes. I got the gift of two such unusual packages recently.

One came from my three-year-old daughter. The other was delivered at a corporate golf tournament in which I received the equivalent of the Miss Congeniality award—and we all know what that means about my golf skills.

I’ll sum up the broader lessons in two sentences:

  • Pay attention to how you communicate—you’re conveying a management philosophy as much as a message.
  • Have fun at work, take risks and don’t be afraid of not being the best at every endeavor.

Let me tell you about the lessons learned from a strong-willed toddler in this post, and I’ll finish up with the golf lessons in the next post.

“Sad” choices have consequences.

Parents always say that they learn so much from their children, but I never realized that the lessons would be applicable to the business world. Enter: my daughter, Vivian. Given that for nearly 3 months she insisted on wearing a pink leotard and ballet bun every day, she is not your typical communications or management consultant. (Although if her fashion preferences continue into adulthood, this could be a distinctive brand identity for her.)

There we were, driving home from her beloved ballet lesson in rush-hour traffic. She was honing her reading skills by calling out the letters on road signs. But I was going too fast for her to finish.

“Momma, slow down!” came the request from her car seat perch behind me.

“I can’t, honey. The traffic is finally moving and we have to keep up with everyone else,” I replied, meeting her eyes in the rear-view mirror. She clearly judged my response as a pathetic excuse for purposely thwarting her request.

“Momma, you are making sad choices! I am putting you in time out when we get home.” Her forehead was furrowed. I’m not sure, but she may have been wagging her finger. (Note to self: need to stop doing that in front of her.)

I was not only amused but also startled. I haven’t been put into time-out for years, but the message was clear:

Lesson 1: Organizations—whether a business or a family—have well-stated expectations of behavior and productivity. Not meeting the standards has consequences. 

Sure enough, when we got home, she directed me to her “time-out” space. Dutifully, I took my seat. After a minute or two, I got up, thinking myself suitably chastened.

“No, Momma, you’re not done,” she said, directing me back to the chair. 

Lesson 2: The punishment must fit the crime. A slap on the wrist was not acceptable for a major transgression such as mine.

A few minutes later, she relented, but not without telling me what, in the future, would be expected in similar situations.

Lesson 3: People can’t meet your expectations unless you’re clear about what they are. Luckily, with my daughter, I have a little room for negotiation—probably not a bad idea in the business world, either.

Apparently, I’ve conveyed a certain communications and management philosophy to Vivian without even thinking about it. I should be pleased she’s picking up on these sophisticated concepts at such a young age. I may not have to pay tuition to the Wharton School after all.

I’m trying to integrate these lessons into my own management style:

  1. Clearly state your standards and expectations.
  2. Discipline performance issues proportionately.
  3. Clarify what’s expected in the future.

In the meantime, I have a couple of friends who’ve adopted Vivian’s approach. I’ve heard more than one of them say to another, “You’re making sad choices.” Any day now, I expect to see it going viral as a Facebook meme.

Coming soon: the rest of the story.

Are you interested in knowing more about what it’s like to be a Great Clips franchisee? Send me a note or give me a call. I’d love to talk with you and find out what lessons you’ve learned from unexpected teachers.

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