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Leadership Lessons from Nine-Year-Olds

Leadership Lessons from Nine-Year-Olds

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Five years ago, I became a blogger. With 45 years of business experience as a foundation, I began sharing personal reflections and contemporary insights on leadership – fully aware that my content would not matter a damn had I not kept pace with the pulse of the new economy and the changing dynamics of customers and the workforce.

One hundred and thirty blogs later, 1 post stands out from the rest, not because it was critically acclaimed or that it generated thousands of hits. The notion of this particular post went beyond business leadership. It was lesson in life, a lesson that did not come from me, but from a Grade 4 class of 9-year olds.

I had been asked to participate as one of three judges at a speech competition at a local school. I accepted the assignment under the pretense that I would evaluate the speeches on content, presentation style, potency of opening and closing, eye contact with the audience, clarity, enthusiasm, and pacing. All true, but the element I’d overlooked happened to be the core principle of every educational institution – the opportunity to learn.

On that day, I listened to twenty 3-minute speeches. On that day I became the student because a class of 9-year old leaders taught me several lessons in life. Here’s how they did it:

They Chose Insightful Topics

Their content that ran the gamut from serious to hilarious. They looked to the future – A Thousand Years from Now, Protecting the Earth, Water. One speech, entitled I Believe brought a tear to my eye, partly because it dealt with humanity, but also because of the sincerity in which it was delivered. I also had several good chuckles as might be expected from a boy’s Trip to the Dentist, and a girl’s What’s so Great about Hockey?

Their Diverse Ethnicity Unleashed Novel Perspectives

The surnames of the class typified several creeds and colors – there was a Buckles, a Clark, a Karim, a Litherland, an Okano, a Suri, a Soltan, a Wang, a Yang and a Zeng. Diversity is said to be the world’s engine of enlightenment. In business, research proves that diversity brings unique experiences and perceptions to solving problems and creating opportunities. When properly harnessed, diversity can do the same for the country and the world.

Their Attitudes were Refreshing and Venerable

I’d describe these 9-year old leaders as confident, enthusiastic, animated, spiritual (without religious overtones) and compassionate. With vigor they applauded every classmates’ efforts. I witnessed an expression of support that was as genuine as it was benevolent.

They were Practiced and Prepared

Their teacher had instilled a powerful ethic within them; those who prepare, succeed. So they practiced and they rehearsed over and over again, and when the time came to deliver their 3-minute discourse to three complete strangers, they excelled. This is an important lesson in life. As for a lesson in leadership, that Grade 4 teacher personified the ethic that great leaders don’t let their followers fail.

By the conclusion of the speeches, I’d gained new insights about Islam, places like the Big Apple and the Dominican Republic, our planet, chocolate addiction . . . and one remarkable teacher’s passion for guiding, understanding and loving these leaders of tomorrow. Someone once said, “We worry so much about what a child will be tomorrow, that we forget who they are today.” On that day, the teacher made her father proud. 

John Bell

John is a strategy consultant and has counseled some of the globe's most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies.

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