Leadership lessons from your inner child – Douglas Ready

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Doug Ready

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Doug Ready

From the MIT Sloan Management Review.

By tapping into their inner child, leaders can blend the bold thinking and action of childhood while maintaining responsibility to the bottom line — an important balance in digital leadership.

When I turned five, I got a new bike. I didn’t know how to ride it, but I took it to a nearby hill anyway, a willing warrior, ready to ride. Was I prepared? Would I be brave enough to overcome the anxiety of facing the unknown? The truth is those questions never occurred to me at the time. Reflecting on this experience decades later, I realized I wasn’t just a willing warrior — I was an ecstatically enthusiastic one. Today, I can’t help but wonder why it seemed so much easier to take on significant new challenges as a five-year-old than it is for me now. As a child, did I have gifts that I somehow lost over the years? Was I foolish then and more responsible now? Upon further reflection, I have come to realize that I’ve been fighting a decades-long battle to not lose many of those gifts that made it relatively easy to learn new things when I was young.

So, let me pose a few questions: What were some of those gifts? Why have I been in danger of losing them? What does this have to do with learning to lead in the digital economy?

Here’s what I remember about myself as a child:

  1. I was bold. I took risks. I knew not getting it perfectly right the first time or two would have short-term consequences, but I didn’t consider that “failing” — it was just a matter of acquiring a skinned knee and a bruise or two. I couldn’t have cared less because I was learning something new and having fun doing it.
  2. learned fast. I found creative ways of falling so as to minimize those skinned knees and bruises.
  3. experimented, used my innate powers of critical thinking, and was resourceful. There were no fancy bicycle helmets when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, but one of my other prized possessions, my replica New York Giants football helmet, served multiple purposes that day.
  4. I was flexible and resilient. Maybe it was just being five, but no matter how many times I fell, I got right back up and barreled down that hill again. And suddenly, my confidence grew as my mechanical skills converged in positive ways with my attitude of being unafraid.
  5. Finally, and certainly not least important, I was trusting, because my dad was pointing me down that hill and carrying the bike back up “Mount Everest” so as not to exhaust me needlessly. He was there, laughing with me, not at me, giving out tips now and then but letting me go my own way, making the experience enjoyable and memorable

Read the full post at the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Douglas A. Ready is a Senior Lecturer in Organizational Effectiveness at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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