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Have you ever learned a lesson from a child?
When my son was five, he was learning to swim, but he didn’t dive in at the deep end straight away. In fact, quite the opposite. He was stuck and unbeknown to us, he was actually terrified. We wanted him to swim, but for some reason he didn’t want to.
When I spoke to my son about swimming, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to be able to swim, it was more to do with the fact that he felt he couldn’t.
When we used to take him to swimming lessons, he used to get upset and refuse to get in the pool. And this started to not only trouble me, it also began to puzzle me.
So I spoke to my first mentor and I picked his brains and I’ve never forgotten what he told me. He said,
“It’s really straightforward, Andrew. All you have to do is work out what’s the picture he has in his head and then change his picture.”
If you’re wondering, what do I mean, if I say to you think of a rainbow, you probably will be able to imagine a rainbow.
So when I spoke to Harry about swimming, the answer he gave me not only shocked me, it also upset me. His answer was,
“I’m sinking to the bottom of the pool and I’m drowning.”
Now, that was quite an answer. And I couldn’t help thinking that my mentor had been right.
So my next challenge was to figure out a way to help Harry to change his picture.
At the time he was playing on his Nintendo every day and all he really wanted was the new Super Mario Brothers game. So I decided that if I could bring meaning to his swimming, by helping him to see that the reward would be Super Mario Brothers, then I would have a better chance of him being able to swim. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.
So this was probably the first leadership lesson that I learned from my son.
It’s all to do with the importance of finding out what the other person’s picture is and helping them to see the new picture. And how do you do that?
You have to ask great questions.
It’s also important that you challenge people’s attitudes because Harry’s attitude to the situation was all to do with how he was thinking and feeling about the situation. And that was impacting on what he was doing.
Great leaders understand that somebody’s attitude isn’t just what they do or how they behave. They understand that it’s more to do with what the person is thinking and feeling because that drives the behaviour.
Great leaders ask great questions so they can figure out what’s going on under the bonnet.
Every manager should be able to listen and understand to what their team are thinking and feeling in order for them to be able to paint the size of the gap that they’re looking to close, and then inspiring their team members to take action. But in order to do that, they first of all have to challenge their people’s attitude.