Even 5 Year Olds Can Throw Leaders for a Loop

by Jennifer Miller on November 29, 2012

in Leadership, Learning

gym floor black lines

Leaders, don’t assume people know where the black lines are.

It was the first day of school. Mr. “J”, a first-year elementary physical education teacher, was ready. He had his “Rules for Our Gym” spiel down pat, including the always-important “If you have to throw up, don’t do it on the gym floor.” Sure, he was nervous but he had a plan.

Each hour, a new group of students trooped in, anxious to meet their new teacher. First, it was the 4th graders’ turn, then the 3rd graders and so on. Each time, Mr. J. greeted the group with the same instructions: “Hi everybody, come on in. I’m so glad to meet you! Let’s line up on the black line, boys and girls and we’ll talk about rules for our gym.”

Then, it was the kindergartners’ turn. In walked 23 youngsters. Some were shy, some were enthusiastic. Once again, the greeting: “Hi everyone. . . let’s line up on the black line.”

A bit of confusion ensued. Some kids moved to the line, others looked around.

Finally, one brave youngster raised his hand.

“Um, Mr. J.?”

“Yes, Stevie?”

“We’re still learning our colors.”

Bam! The old “they don’t know what they don’t know” brings a simple set of instructions to a screeching halt.

Mr. J. wryly confessed to his mentor later that day: “Wow! That was humbling. Never saw that one coming. Who would have thought a group of five-year-olds would have derailed my careful plans.”

Leadership lesson: Be prepared to meet your followers where they are in their journey. As the leader, when you are creating the game plan, you’ve already worked out the logistics in your head. Your people may not be “there” yet. They may still be sorting out the differences between the “gray line” and the “black line”.

Be ready for their confusion.

And for goodness sake, be sure to praise the courage of the person who raises his or her hand. Most professionals won’t be as forthcoming as a kindergartner about what they don’t know.

Image credit: maek123 / 123RF Stock Photo

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