Four leadership lessons from your inner child

Are you following the dreams of your younger self? Do you have the courage to go after what you want, following your inner child? It’s a scary thing to do, which is why I think adults can learn a lot from the way we behaved as kids.

 

It was my birthday recently, which has got me thinking about how lucky I am to be living my childhood dream. While there’s nothing quite like the benefit of experience as you get older, there’s also much to be gained from stepping back and embracing your inner child.

In her TED Talk child prodigy Adora Svitak said the world needs childish thinking, such as creativity and optimism. The design of our courses facilitate exactly this, so during our courses, we see this in action. I’ve seen people break through their personal barriers and in some cases even shed a tear. There’s something about working with animals, especially horses, that empowers people to be themselves. You could even say they stripped away a lot of their learnt adult behaviours and became children again.

How many of us can say we did something we are passionate about today? Was direct with others? Went after what we wanted?

Here’s some of the lessons we can all learn from our inner child.

Lesson 1: Follow your passion

Have you ever tried to make a child do a task they didn’t want to do? It’s really hard! Children gravitate towards what they like – it’s instinctive – and they don’t have the social constraints we adults tend to impose on ourselves.

As a child, I was always passionate about horses. My Dad would ask me,  “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I would always answer, “I want to live on five acres in Terrey Hills with horses.” “Well, that’s lovely,” he would reply. “But that’s not a career.”

Fast forward to 2011, when I moved to our property (yes – five acres in Terrey Hills!) and was finally living with horses and working with them daily. I could see the profound effect they had on others – not just horse lovers like myself – and an idea formed. Now with my leadership and team development business I feel like I’ve finally realised my dream and am living my passion.

For the early years of my career, I followed paths that were interesting, rewarding and beneficial for the work I do now, but not really my passion. I’m a believer in life takes you down certain paths for a reason and there are always lessons to be learnt along the way.

It hasn’t been an easy road and some people don’t understand my vision, but I refuse to let them deter me. That ten year old me could not be silenced. Her voice was always there – through university and corporate jobs.

Passion is not a straightforward concept.  As commentators have pointed out, it’s not always about doing what’s fun, but doing something you care about. In my case, my passion about horses aligns with what gives me a sense of purpose, which is helping others develop. This gives me greater satisfaction overall.

With this in mind, remember passion can take many forms, not just your job. In fact, it may be that your job functions as a way to facilitate a community or voluntary activity. It could be a hobby, a sport or a certain lifestyle!

Lesson 2: Be direct (within reason)

Do you remember going up to someone in the playground and telling them exactly what you thought of them? Have you done that lately – I suspect not!

Of course, I’m not advocating getting rid of the subtlety and communication skills we (hopefully) learn by the time we reach adulthood. Or hurting the feelings of others.

However, behaviours we learn as we grow can get in the way of honest communication which can in turn cause issues, particularly in a team environment. Fear of what people think of us. Not wanting to show our whole selves to others. Fear of trusting others.

We often see people come to realisations about this in our courses, when they work with our horses. There’s no room for indirect communication with animals! You have to be clear otherwise you won’t achieve anything.

Good leaders will be able to speak honestly to their teams, and will make their team feel comfortable talking directly to them as well.

Lesson 3: Show your emotions

Once, we had one of our workshop participants tell us that they had learnt love is stronger than force.

What a realisation!

Similar to what I said above about communication, I believe we also learn to hide our emotions as adults. In fact, it started for some of us as children if we were told not to cry or that we’re too sensitive. But research has shown this can be damaging and that it’s better to express even negative emotion than to push them away.

So, I think we can all take a leaf our inner child here. Having a tantrum in the office is probably not advised, but being honest with yourself and others about how situations at work are affecting you emotionally is important. As is being aware of the emotions of your team members and encouraging them to speak up.

Lesson 4: Ask questions and learn new things

But why? But why?

Anyone with a young child will be familiar with this phrase. That beautiful determination to discover the world through asking questions.

Asking questions is important for adults too, but often we think it will make us look stupid. However, questions are an important part of communication and active listening. A way to remain involved in a conversation. 

Questions also help us to discover new things. Experts say adult learning not only helps us in the economic sense, but also improves our general health and wellbeing. Many of us do courses or reading information online about interesting topics (we’re big fans of both of these, of course!) but knowledge can be gained simply be sitting down with someone, asking questions and actively listening to the answers.

 

What do you think we can learn from our inner child? Let us know in the comments.

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