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Little ones doing big things.
The fourth Thursday of every April is America’s official Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. More than 3.5 million workplaces across the country participate every year, and yours might be one of them. Whether or not you get to see kids wander the hallways of your office, the day is a great reminder that some life and leadership lessons come in small packages. Here is a round-up of the kids who have inspired, challenged and entertained us–along with ideas and motivation tips for using their examples to boost your career.
The Kid President phenomenon started in 2012, after Robby Novac and his brother-in-law Brad Montague recorded a video meant to unite grown-ups and kids and uploaded it to YouTube. Robby’s demeanor, attitude and spunk have earned him the hearts of millions of viewers and followers–but it’s the underlying values and lessons in his videos that keep people coming back for more. Here are three leadership lessons and motivation tips that you can take from the Kid President and apply in your own professional life.
Robby, who is now 13 years old, has Osteogenesis Imperfecta – a brittle bone condition that has caused him over 70 broken bones. While he does wear a cast in some of his videos, the disease is not the focus of his platform – in fact, he barely ever mentions it at all. We can all think back to a time when we faced an obstacle at work or in life that seemed unsurmountable. The Kid President reminds us that our challenges do not define us.
Watch any of the Kid President videos, and you instantly see Robby’s unapologetic directness. He calls it as he sees it, even on complex issues that don’t have a simple solution. This is a great reminder of strength and value that come from distilling the problem down to its core moving parts and in being direct. If big-picture thinking is your natural strength, play it up! If your natural focus is on detail first, you might practice stepping out of your habit to reach for strategic insights.
There would be no Kid President phenomenon if a boy and his brother-in-law did not goof around with a camera. No matter what your job is, there is always room to make your more fun. You may be surprised to find out that turning a task into a game or joking with a colleague can actually make you more productive–and happier at work!
William Kamkwamba, a 14-year old from Malawi, had to drop out of school in 2002 because of the famine that swept through the country. He was unable to return to school because his family could not afford the tuition, but that did not stop the young man from continuing his own education in the local library. Armed with determination and books, and inspired by his love of engineering, he set out to build a windmill out of bicycle parts and scrap metal. His first construction generated enough energy to power electrical lights at his home; the second machine he built provided running water. William’s story was shared locally before going viral online. He has since presented on a TED stage in South Africa and graduated from college.
William’s story is a powerful leadership lesson and example of identifying a need or a problem and doing something to fix it. How often do we find ourselves complaining about things that aren’t quite right at work: perhaps a process that is inefficient, a co-worker who is difficult, or a software package that is clunky and awkward to use? Finding a dozen reasons to complain is easy–but few people choose to take active steps to resolve the issue. Become that person who comes to senior management with recommended solutions, leads the task force, and takes on beta-testing–and you will see your visibility and career prospects sky-rocket.
Our desire to create a perfect outcome at work can often keep us from taking steps in the right direction until everything (resources, timing and skill-sets) is aligned just so. If William has waited until he was a proficient engineer, or moped about the lack of access to proper construction materials, he would have never built anything at all. The lesson here is to use what you have right now and stop waiting for perfection.
There are dozens of articles on the importance of continuing your professional education even after you get your diplomas and certifications. Unfortunately, carving out the time and the energy to invest in continued learning can be tough. Between fire-drills at work and responsibilities at home, who has the time to read professional magazines and books, let alone attend conferences? William’s story reminds us all to make the time for learning.
Madison Star and Mallory Iyana were not happy about the options they had when it came to scents. The two pre-teens found the kids’ perfumes from major stores to be boring, and the bottles in mom’s drawer too flowery and heavy. They wanted something that reflected their sense of fun and adventure, so they created a line of body lotions and sprays for tweens and teens that are paraben-free, vegan-friendly and loaded with vitamins to protect the skin. The duo appeared on Shark Tank and walked away with investment offers from both Mark Cuban and Daymond John.
Whether you have a traditional 9-5 job at the office or are self-employed, professional life can get lonely. Sometimes it may feel like you are the only one struggling with learning something new, racing against time, and investing considerable amounts of time and efforts for an uncertain payout. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Having a best friend at the office is one of the metrics that Gallup uses to assess how happy employees are at work. Build your support network!
Madison and Mallory use what comes naturally to them (performing and dancing) to promote their product. That decision turns something most people dread (marketing) into an activity that they genuinely enjoy. As a result, they are likely to do more of it, turning their personal care line into an even bigger success story. You can apply the same idea at work by identifying what you are naturally great at and building it into what you do. If you are unsure what your major strengths are, talk with friends and co-workers–or take an assessment like the Strengthsfinder.
Every year, the girls throw themed birthday parties and ask for donations to a chosen charity instead of gifts. That is a fantastic leadership lesson in giving back! When we are caught up in the daily race and mired in our to-do lists, it can be difficult to take a step back and appreciate all the help we have had getting to where we are. No matter how hard you have worked or how talented you are, no one has reached his or her accomplishments in a vacuum. We all stand on the shoulders of our parents, mentors, teachers and coaches. The best way to thank them is by paying it forward. Consider stepping into a mentorship role or volunteering your expertise at a charity–the experience can be remarkably rewarding on both the personal and the professional level.
In March, Marion Kelly walked into her dad’s home office as he was about to be interviewed live by the BBC – and turned her family into an overnight Internet sensation. Marion’s dad is a political sciences professor who was going to offer his thoughts on the ramifications of the impeachment of South Korea President Park Geun-hye. His daughter had other plans! The parents were initially mortified by what happened, but eventually found the humor in the situation.
This is one of the best leadership lessons we can offer: life at work never turns out exactly as we have planned. Mistakes happen, markets spin out of control, computers crash and emails get sent to the wrong people. Don’t let that discourage you from trying again. If you have made a mistake, own it, fix it and move on. If someone else let you down, do your best to close the feedback loop and go back to doing your best. And, at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, don’t get discouraged - you really never know how the situation will play out. Something that looks like a career-ending mistake today may turn into an opportunity. Marion’s dad was certain that he would be perceived as unprofessional and never appear on TV again – yet the response to the blooper has been supportive. So, let go of attachment to perfection and embrace being a human at work. The results may surprise you.
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