Leadership Reminders From My Children

Kids have a way of being innocent and wise all at the same time. Although adults are supposed to have the answers, I am often surprised at how children can show me an insight into a problem I am currently grappling with.

Children and leadership - The Leader's Digest by Suzi McAlpine

Here are 10 ways my children remind me of effective leadership:

1. Honesty – children rarely hold back on what they think. They are honest, sometimes brutally so, but the gift of this is we can deal with ‘what is’.

2. Being present in the moment – or mindfulness, comes so naturally to children. Have you ever watched a five-year old look for spiders or do a drawing? They do it with every fibre in their body.

3. Vulnerability – children will show fear, concern, or worry and are fine with exhibiting these feelings. Leaders don’t need to have all of the answers all of the time – saying, “I am not sure” is OK.

4. Building bridges and getting over them, quickly. This is one of my favourites. It never ceases to amaze me how fast children move on from disputes. Don’t hold grudges – they only manifest in unwanted ways.

5. Having fun – having a laugh and using humour, especially in tough situations, can be a tonic.  Ask yourself how you can inject more fun into your working life.

6. Emotional expression – the irony of not expressing how we feel as leaders (in an appropriate and healthy manner), is that it finds a way to come out anyway – most often in less than helpful ways.

If you are angry or frustrated with another person, don’t ignore it, and instead consider the best way to handle the situation in the most effective way, rather than trying to ignore or suppress the frustration altogether.

7. Collaboration. Watching my kids build a hut together the other day was such an emphatic example of teamwork, it stopped me in my tracks. They all knew the part they played, they listened to each other, they encouraged each other and they shared great ideas.

8. Acting without judgement. Children, especially younger children, are so good at accepting others and seeing the uniqueness in their peers.  As leaders, when we search for the best in each person, we often see potential – there are hidden gems within us all.

9. Using their bodies. Kids are always moving – it’s an intrinsic part of play. There are endless studies to prove the positive link between physical activity and productivity.

10. Communication. You always know where you stand, and when an “I love you mum” appears unexpectedly, it makes my day. Often we forget to communicate words of encouragement and gratitude to our team, but a simple “great job, well done” can go a long way.


  1. MichaelJ on August 14, 2013 at 1:27 am

    Hi Suzi,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is we lose (and gain), as we “grow up”. Sadly, much of what we lose, like the things you mention in your post, would serve us well as “grown ups”.

    Maturity means gaining an ability to delay gratification, understanding that you can’t have it all and you can’t always have it right now; that what other people think usually doesn’t matter; that you reap what you sow; that you are your own responsibility; and that although you are the center of your own world, you’re not the center of everyone’s world (with a few loving exceptions perhaps!).

    All those things are vital, but they should not come at the expense of innocence, curiosity, openness, joy, spontaneity, and the ability to live in the moment, totally focused on the present experience, which they unfortunately often do.

    I’ve always found that the best leaders, and the happiest people, seem to have retained those good things of childhood, even as they embody the maturity of adulthood.

    It’s funny, isn’t it, that calling an adult “childish” is an admonishment, yet being “child-like”, is not a bad thing.

    So thanks – enjoyed your post, and I’ll be back.


    • The Leader's Digest on August 14, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      Michael thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic. You are absolutely right, the most successful leaders, and indeed those people who are happy to just “be” in the moment are often those who have retained those childlike qualities, and that should be encouraged, not frowned upon. Cheers, Suzi

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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