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Are You a Better Leader Than a Four-Year-Old?

I have a four-year-old friend: a rather strong-willed, loving, and declarative little girl. The summer camp she attends is also quite declarative — about what constitutes correct behavior, and how the children should handle any interpersonal difficulties. The camp’s stance is so clear, in fact, that the four-year-old has internalized it and acts on it. She demonstrated its merits recently when she quelled a skirmish that had broken out between two boys.

“Back up!” my little friend commanded, standing in between the two brawlers with her arms spread wide as she had seen her camp teachers do. “Back up!”

What a model of clarity!

  • Her vision of good behavior and her goal of breaking up the fight were perfectly aligned.
  • Her verbal communication was direct and effective. Her language was easy for the boys to understand and act on. She didn’t tell them, “Stop!” or “Don’t!” — either of which would leave room for interpretation. No, it was perfectly clear what she expected them to do.
  • All her non-verbal communication was on point and consistent. Her facial expression, tone, and gestures were completely congruent with her language. There was no question that she was fully dedicated to — and engaged in — breaking up this fight, and that she was confident that she could — and would — do it.
  • She acknowledged satisfactory performance promptly. “Good job!” she announced when the boys, impressed by her ardor, followed her directive and fell back.

Vision, goal, communication plan, commitment, consistency, and acknowledgment: Would that all leaders could be as clear as a well-trained, committed four-year-old who had all the appropriate tools to effect the necessary change and didn’t hesitate to use them.

Onward and upward,


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