From the title of Robert Fulghum’s best-selling book of life stories is as applicable today as when he published it in 1988. And, you can learn a lot about leadership by participating in a number of summer activities that you might feel are “just for kids” like Story Time at the local library.
It has been a number of years since I last attended Story Time. And, now that summer is here and I have the opportunity, I have begun to take my grandson to Story Time. The format hasn’t really changed all that much – there is a gathering, a brief outline of what is going to happen, a song, a story, a song, another story, and an activity. (Sounds pretty much like that standing weekly meeting, except that they aren’t as much fun, because we don’t get play along with the song, and the activities, well…..)
So, let’s look at the leadership opportunities that are present:
The Gathering – While it is one thing to “wrangle” 20 to 25 kids under the age of six plus their tag along adult into a seated position and ready to listen, it is another to bring together a team of professionals, right? Not so much. In fact, I sometimes think it is easier to deal with the children. They want to be there. They are expecting certain things. They are anticipating positive outcomes. The adults, well…..
So, what is the lesson? When pulling together a meeting, a training session, a presentation, etc., we have to include the hook, some predictability, and a desired outcome. Sure, you won’t always be able to have grab everyone and some of these are “have to be there, because” type meetings. But, you don’t have to allow them to be painful, boring, or last longer than they need to. Posting of agendas is necessary. A stated purpose is necessary.
And, you have to allow for the gathering to occur. You can’t rush it. And, it this may be the most important part of the event. These interactions are what make your teams cohesive. The real work of an organization is usually done in the hallways, the break room, and in those few minutes at the beginning and end of meetings. This is where the innovation occurs. It is where work gets streamlined.
The Outline – OK, even if the agenda was posted. At Story Time, even though it follows the same pattern every week, the outline for the next hour is repeated. Why? Because, there may be a new child, a new parent, or someone who is not yet familiar with the routine. In the business world, the attendees may not have read their email, you might have a guest, you might have an observer, or they just need the outline to get them focused on the task at hand. Humans like patterns. We need patterns. The repeating of the outline helps us grasp that focus that we need to be productive.
The Song, the Story, the Song and the Story – The purpose of the first song at story time (and it usually the same one from week to week) is the initial grabber. It gets the participants involved. These are the standing agenda items: the safety moment, review of last week’s sales, etc. All the attendees know what is about to happen, but they are watch for anything new or how the new individuals are going to react. And, it allows you to slide into the flow of the event. Then there is the story. It is new information, we are actively listening. We are applying the information. All are key things for adults as well as for the children.
This is followed but round two. But, this time the song is different. We have to be more engaged. We are applying something new. But, it is bringing us all together and bring the focus back to the group. This is where the buy-in occurs at the business meeting. It is followed by another story. For the business meeting, this is where the connections with the organization’s mission occur. The why.
The Activity – During Story Time, this is where the children get to participate and really do. The activity is usually related to the stories that were presented. So, connections are made. New things are tried. And, learning is masked as something fun. For professionals, the activity usually means discussions of the work, the goals, the plans, etc. There are the normal workflows that must occur. And, how the information presented will be applied. The only difference – we don’t get to see it as fun or play. (Sometimes, you need a bit of play to keep the creative juices flowing.)
Thus, Story Time is a learning experience. There are lessons to be learned. There are observations to be made. You might want to take a bit of time to be “outside of the concrete, steel, glass box” and take a trip to Story Time, it may be more beneficial than that leadership symposium.