Management Lessons I Learned from Kids

Management Lessons I Learned from Kids

Kids and employees have a lot more in common than you might think. After spending a summer supervising 30 kids solo for the better part of 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday, I learned quite a few lessons in management that apply to people of all ages. Here are the top five.

1. People need to know what you expect

During an entire summer at the 2nd largest gymnastics center in the nation, only two children in my program got sent to time out. Two! And this was not because I was lenient; in fact, I was probably the most strict coach for the recreational gymnastics at the time.

The children were well-behaved was because they knew how I wanted them to behave. They all knew the rules, and they all followed them, which allowed us to have the most fun possible. The risks of losing time in the foam pit or on trampolines was too great for them to misbehave, but they had to know what I expected from them so they could meet those expectations.

The same goes for employees. If they know what you expect from them, then they are free to meet and exceed those expectations rather than waste time trying to figure out what you want.

2. Using unique skills makes people feel valuable

There was a wide age range of children in this summer camp, which at one point spanned from ages four to 14, and everyone played together. What is fun (and safe) for a four year old can be pretty different for a 14 year old, so I created special tasks for older kids to keep them engaged. The older kids were the “examples” when we discussed the rules, they made sure the youngest kids washed their hands before lunch, they set up obstacle courses for everyone, etc.

By allowing the older kids to have extra responsibilities and use their unique abilities, they felt like a valuable part of the camp and came back week after week. Encouraging employees to use their differences to the team’s advantage can be empowering for them and the team as a whole.

3. It’s all about relationships

I really go to know the kids in my camp, and even some of their parents, which turned out to be the most important thing I did all summer. Those relationships benefited me, the kids, the parent’s peace of mind, and the business in ways I never anticipated. One kid cried when his mom started to drop him off at space camp because he wanted to go back to camp with “Coach Amanda.” When my boss asked his kids what their favorite part of camp was, their answer wasn’t the trampolines or water balloon fights, it was “Coach Amanda.” The parents loved it when I talked to them about the camp and their kids, and wanted to bring their kids back all summer, and have me babysit during the school year.

Relationships with employees, clients, and others can benefit your organization in ways you wouldn’t expect. Spending time talking with people and getting to know them is an important investment, and will likely bring you unexpected benefits.

4. Trust the best in people

Many of my colleagues told story after story about how certain kids in my program had misbehaved during other classes. My response was always, “Wow, they’ve been great for me.” Each kid in my program got a clean slate with me. It didn’t matter how misbehaved they were for other coaches, they were considered “well behaved kids” in my program until they proved otherwise. As surprising as it sounds, no kid proved otherwise.

If you treat someone like they’re not good-whether it’s their attitude, ethics, or skill level- they are backed into a corner. It’s hard to overcome people’s negative opinions of you, and easier to begin living up to those negative expectations. But when you trust the best in people, they are likely to show you their best.

5. You set the tone for your team

Near the end of the summer some of the other recreational programs were experiencing low enrollment, so full time staff needed more hours. As a result my hours were cut back to afternoons only, which I figured wouldn’t be a big deal.

But when I got there in the afternoons the children were running wild and crazy. The kids that had been angels for me all summer were suddenly breaking rules and not listening to the coaches. Parents that had watched the camp complained about the difference to me and asked my supervisor to give me back the morning hours. As it turns out, the leader truly sets the tone.

Who you are and how you work directly affects your team. If you are organized, timely with projects, and calm, it will reflect in your team. If you are frazzled, late, and disorganized, it will reflect in your team.

When managing your team, just remember:

  1. People need to know what you expect

  2. Using unique skills makes people feel valuable

  3. It’s all about relationships

  4. Trust the best in people

  5. You set the tone for your team

I’m Amanda Wallander Roberts, MSSW, a consultant passionate about building fundraising and evaluation capacity with social organizations. I’ve helped over 60 social organizations fundraise and evaluate programs, including raising over $22million, and developing more than 50 logic models, evaluation plans, and process maps. Learn more about my services or contact me for support today!

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