Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why I Treat Our Employees Like Children -- and why they deserve it

Has someone ever called you childish? Or told you to “stop acting like a child”? Or flat out said, “You just need to grow up”?

I'm guessing that kind of pissed you off.

When we're young, most of us long to be older and more sophisticated. And as entrepreneurs, we never stop wanting to get better and smarter at everything we do – so we take a lot of chances. And when we fail, and someone points out that maybe we're not so clever, it's a sucker punch that can really knock us back.

When that happens, sometimes I feel like I just need to pull on my big girl boots and act like an adult – you know, sit nicely at the grown-ups' table and use the right fork. But sometimes I actually need to do just the opposite.
Perhaps it's because I'm a parent myself, with that exquisite perspective on childhood that can only be acquired after years of dwelling in spilled milk, soggy diapers and supervised chaos. But in between the weeds of those trying times, astonishing beauty blossoms. That's the garden I'm charged with tending as a parent, and I think it's similar with employees. These are tender shoots that need careful attention and nurturing to grow to their fullest potential.

I try to treat our employees like children because I think kids have it all over grown-ups in several ways:

Children are trusting. Employees – especially new employees – place their trust in our leadership and experience. They want to trust their own enthusiasm to lead them to fulfilling opportunities within our organizations. However, their trust is not a gift in perpetuity. We have to earn it and keep earning it by providing an environment where it's safe to take chances, where support is abundant and criticism is constructive.
Children see the potential in the world. “In the beginner's mind, the possibilities are many. In the expert's mind, they are few.” The words of Zen Buddhist monk Shunryu Suzuki are ones that I think all entrepreneurs should live by. Children tend to possess this “beginner's mind” and see possibility rather than limits. I want people on our team who see the world this way, and I want to do what I can to eliminate limits that impair our shared vision.
Children keep discovering new opportunities and adventures. The instinct and willingness to say “yes” is vital whether you're an improvisational actor or an entrepreneur. What's next? What can we improve? What new problem can we solve? These are questions we should be asking ourselves every day. Of course, we also need to know when to sit back and let it all soak in. I want to help our employees learn how to find that elusive balance because I believe that is a skill that will serve them throughout their lives.

Our company is quite young, and so are most of our employees. But I like to think that if we are lucky enough to grow old together, we'll still treat each other like children – even when we've got our big kid boots on.


Allison Wood is the momma bear at LCMS+, an early stage educational technology company based in Chapel Hill. LCMS+ is a CED VMS company.


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