Kindergarten Lessons: The Three C's of Effective Leadership

Last Updated Sep 4, 2009 6:43 PM EDT

It's been my son's first week of kindergarten and let's just say Mom was more stressed about it than he was. And unfortunately, anxiety and panic appear to be incompatible with coherent blogging, so apologies for the radio silence the past two days.

But I've regained my equilibrium and am able to view this past week with some perspective now. I've even managed to notice the ways in which the school leadership exceeded, met, or missed our parental expectations.

It's the missed expectations, of course, that really got to the moms and dads sending off their wee ones for the first time. Amidst the playground grumbling, I noticed three common issues that seemed to get everyone's goat: poor communication, a lack of collaboration, and no commiseration.

It struck me that these three C's are crucial to anyone managing a team or directing a group, whether in the boardroom or the classroom. Here's my Monday (Friday)-morning quarterbacking on what was could have been done differently, and how these lessons apply to your leadership role.

As of the morning of the first day of kindergarten, I did not know exactly when the school day began. That information wasn't on the school Web site, in the manuals and handouts we'd received, or posted at the school. Word of mouth gave me three different answers. In the end, we showed up 20 minutes before the earliest time I'd heard, just in case.

Frustrating, right? And that's how it feels for your employees when they aren't sure what the deadline is, why they've been assigned to a project, who is responsible for a deliverable, and so on. A good leader always communicates with his team and clearly explains expectations and parameters. He should answer the who/what/when/where/why/how of any issue before anyone even needs to ask. It doesn't take much to proactively keep people in the loop, and it pays off big time with a calmer, more prepared team.

On the first day of school, we newbie kindergarten parents were excited, engaged, and looking forward to contributing to our classrooms and the school. But for most of us, this week has been a splash of cold water. The principal allowed parents five minutes in the classroom for farewells on the first day and then shooed us out. The teachers have been harried and hurried and seemed to have little time to answer our timid questions. By Friday, our excited group had become cynical, complaining in the parking lot about how shut out we felt.

"They act like we're a bunch of cats they just want corral in the sandbox," noted one mom, "yet they expect us to contribute money and volunteer our time to the school."

If you aren't collaborating with your team -- working together to solve problems, encouraging give and take, respecting their comments and concerns and valuing their contributions -- then you're actively disengaging them. If it took just four days to turn a bunch of gung-ho supermoms (and superdads) into a crew of kvetchers, how long would take to turn your employees into clock-watching, bitter, bored workers? No one wants that. So acknowledge them, respect them, and work closely with them, even when it's not convenient for you. You expect plenty from them, so make sure you give back in return.

A uniting factor for all first-time parents: We were nervous. Yet the staff seemed impervious to our fears (and tears). It would have gone a long, long way to get some reassurance from the principal and the teachers.Yes, as my teacher friends note, it's the most stressful day of the year for school personnel and all of them had their game faces on. I get that. But just a small comment ("I know this is a big day for all of you, but parents, don't worry; we'll take good care of your kids") could have alleviated a lot.

The same goes at the office. If your team is busting a gut on an intense project, take a minute to tell them you know it's been rough. If someone is having a personal crisis, let them know you're there if they need you. When you're asking a lot of your employees but can't reward them with raises, tell them you know it stinks but you appreciate their hard work. Put yourself in their shoes on a regular basis and ask yourself what you can do to show you care about them.

Did the first day of school (yours or your kids) teach you any leadership lessons? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section.
  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for and writes regularly for and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.