We were all a child once and now perhaps it is time to act like a child again.
That sage advice is not an exclusive thought. It originates from Mr. Fred Rogers, the same television personality who once advised us to look for the helpers in times of crisis. When you look for the helpers, you find hope. When you think, and act like a child, you find healing.
It is interesting that during this year, like no other, there are three simple things making a difference: open minds, practicality and kindness. Children are born with open minds. They are not tainted by the bias of experience. They tend to be very practical because their choices are usually between two or three simple options. Do you want to read a book or play with your dolls? Children are also incredibly kind. They crave love and give it back in abundance. They know that love is the simple syrup of security and joy.
As my clients around the world work to survive, and hopefully thrive again in the COVID era, I am trying to draw from Mr. Rogers in the guidance I give. Thinking, and acting, like a child is not limiting or immature. It is actually quite liberating.
Here are 5 ways to think, and act, like a child as we strive to lead our organizations, keep our people safe and treat each other with respect and dignity:
1. Convert your limitations into activities that focus around listening.
Children listen better than most, unless there is an ice cream truck vying for attention down the street. In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears, and our hearts, and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers. A Zoom meeting actually encourages listening because the camera locks in your focus.
2. Look for the light and use that to open new windows.
I have watched children on walks with their family turn tree branches into dinosaur fossils and nature hunts into vocabulary lessons. Every company should think about the top three beams of light in their world right now and use that to stir the imagination and dedication of their people. Identify the light, your unique strengths, and base your actions and your words on the harmony and power of “three’s”.
3. Forgive and forget.
When people are in crisis, they tend to blame other people’s actions as an outlet for their fear. Are you angry at the people partying at the bars in Florida or the colleague who was late with their report? Kids get angry for about a minute and then it is gone. Get ahead of emotion and use communication to sweep people into the solution of your collective future. Ask for ideas and get ahead of concerns with transparent communication.
4. Use the visual to displace fear of the unknown.
Kids trust pictures because they learn to see before they learn how to talk. When you do FaceTime with a child, they smile because they can see and hear their grandparents. Corporate executives can do the same thing. Make liberal use of video conferencing, not just phone calls. Paint verbal pictures of the top three things you are already doing to get the company back on its feet. We tend to want the things we can see, even if it involves change.
5. Smile and laugh, together.
Science proves something we already suspected: laughter is therapeutic and humor can be an important business tool. Our children may not read the headlines but they know there is tension in the home. Nonetheless, they continue to wake up with a smile and they look up at the sky dozens of times a day. The same thing can be achieved in corporate culture. Your master narrative for the crisis must be serious but it can be delivered with positivity and optimism. Try smiling on the phone. Try sharing some humor about the craziness of your own home right now. Focus not just on your recovery plan but on your strategies for happiness.
Maintaining Hope Through Crisis
My older children remember 9-11. They remember the empty skies, and the fear of having their dad covering the story for ABC-News at Ground Zero. They remember schools shutting down and terrifying stories of what could come next. However, they also remember family dinners and simple walks around the block. They remember a country coming together to rebuild and restore. They remember that the sun came up just as bright each morning and that people eventually went back to work with renewed purpose.
Those memories are helping them get through this time of pandemic and great unrest. Together we can do the same for this next generation.
How might these lessons from children help you lead even better?
To help leaders and communicators lead and communicate with employees during COVID-19, we've developed a resource page of tips and strategies that we're updating regularly. Click below to get the resources: