Management lessons learned from an 18-month-old

December 18, 2007 -  By

By: Mike Seuffert

My wife Tricia and I recently took our 18-month-old daughter Ava to have our Christmas pictures professionally taken. After a lot of goofy faces and silly sounds, the photographer finally elicited a few smiles and snapped a couple of really great shots. That’s when my wife and I made our fatal mistake. We tried to change the baby’s outfit.

After fighting Ava to get her dress off, she started to run circles around the studio in just her diaper. When we finally forced her second dress on, she was furious, lying on the ground kicking and screaming. This time, the silly faces and sounds did nothing. Eventually, we admitted defeat and left.

Somehow, this incident worked its way into my head and I started wondering what if adults acted more like 18-month-olds.

Employee: “Sir, I’d like a raise.”
Boss: “No.”
Employee: “(Lying on the floor) Whaaaaaaaa!!!”

If this were socially acceptable, I’d expect telemarketers would be even more difficult to get rid of. But aside from the kicking and screaming, I think there’s actually a lot the business world can learn from 18-month-olds.

Never be afraid to ask: We were on a trip to Disney World this summer and stopped at a smoothie stand for a drink. We were the only people in line, but there was a wait because one of the machines wasn’t working. So we chatted with the cashier when Ava reached into the little smoothie hut, grabbed a banana, smiled at the cashier and said, “Na-na?” There was no way the cashier could refuse. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers for a referral, or if there’s anything else you can offer them. The worst they can say is no.

Be a tough negotiator: The Browns and Seahawks are going into the fourth quarter in an extremely close game. Ava decides she wants to watch “The Backyardigans.” While I think it’s the best kids’ show I’ve ever seen, I prefer the football game. I offer Ava toys, books, candy. She stands firm. “The Backyardigans” comes on the TV. I listen to most of the fourth quarter on the radio. Know what you want and never back down.

You sometimes have to be the disciplinarian: Every day, we get a written report from Ava’s daycare about what she ate, what they did and when she went to the bathroom. (New parents analyze their children’s bowel movements closer than stockbrokers watch the Dow Jones.) Anyway, the other week her report said something like, “Ava had a good day. She ate chicken for lunch, enjoyed playing outside and bit two of her friends.” Biting is a no-no in daycare, and we certainly don’t condone it. But when we talked to her teachers, they said the other kids tried to take the phone and the doll she was playing with. Hey, when you’re the boss, sometimes you’re going to have to chew out your employees.

Be innovative: Ava’s recent inventions include the cell phone comb (that’s about the only feature cell phones don’t come with these days) and peanut butter shampoo. Take a new look at your products and services and see if there are any opportunities you’re missing out on.

Having a bad morning? Take a nap: When Ava gets tired in the afternoon, like her father, she gets grouchy. If your eyes are drooping, you probably aren’t being very productive. OK, you might not be able to lie down for an hour and a half like a toddler, but a 20-minute power nap during lunch might perk you up after a tough morning.

Never stop learning: From countless episodes of “Go Diego, Go” (Diego is a cousin of “Dora the Explorer” for the uninitiated) Ava has learned all about animals and the sounds they make. In her Diego book, she can identify animals like monkeys, elephants, penguins, whales, condors, mountain tapirs, armadillos, maned wolves, llamas and more. I’m constantly amazed by what she picks up. (Meanwhile, she’s thinking, “Daddy must be an idiot. I’ve already told him what sound an elephant makes 10 times today, but he keeps forgetting.”) With all of the resources available to you in books, at local universities, online and in trade magazine, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be learning more about running your business every day.

Smile, laugh, hug and love: An 18-month-old doesn’t play office politics, doesn’t hold grudges, doesn’t dwell on what happened yesterday and doesn’t worry about what’s coming tomorrow. Sure you need to set goals for the future, but don’t forget to live for the moment. Enjoy what you do. Have some fun in the office. Make time for your family. And give the people you love a kiss at bedtime.

LM Staff

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