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12 Surprising Leadership Lessons [I learned from a 6th grader]

For the second time in less than two years, I found myself unemployed. The first time was due to budget cuts, the second simply a lack of work. Actually, I prefer to think of myself as a “leader in transition.” I’m an occupational safety professional by trade. I worked in the corporate offices of two fortune 500 companies and the federal government for twenty years without losing my job. I feel fortunate to have worked uninterrupted for so long.

I like to think I’m handling this transition like a true professional, accepting the fact and moving on to bigger and better opportunities. This time around though seems different. Stress has encroached into my daily routine. I was alerted to this by an unlikely observer. The stress, that is, of losing a job, of being in transition, of not being able to get up in the morning and do what I do best. I’m not sure how long it had been going on, but obviously, stress was manifesting itself in me in ways I didn’t notice.

My youngest daughter, who is 12 years old and in the 6th grade, noticed that I wasn’t myself. I’m not sure if she picked up on certain behaviors or just sensed something wasn’t right. She did know that I was unemployed, but I found work pretty quick the last time.

One evening while I was sitting in my home office she came in and without a word, drew these messages on my white board.

I’m used to her doodling on my white board, but never with such a profound and timely message. It took a moment for it to really sink in. After I gave her a big hug and my eyes cleared up, I thought to myself, wow! She is right! I will come out the other side and be a better person for the experience. To say it lifted my spirits and energized me would be the understatement of the year. It prompted me to think just how much we can learn (or relearn) from a 6th grader.

Here are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind.

1. See the good side in a situation and people.

2. See through the clutter. We clutter our minds with stuff, often unnecessary stuff that increases stress and doesn’t get us closer to our goal.

3. Play more games. We have since had a “game night” at our house and had a blast.

4. Don’t take yourself so seriously, kids certainly don’t.

5. Dream more while you are awake. The rainbow prompted this thought. Sitting in silence for a few minutes each day, with a clutter free mind promotes dreaming.

6. No one is in charge of your happiness except you. Just watch kids.

7. Give something good to others every day. I received an unexpected and nice gift from my daughter.

8. However good or bad a situation is; it will change.

9. Life is like school and problems are simply part of the curriculum that fades away like a history class, but the lessons we learn last a lifetime.

10. Try to make someone smile. My daughter made me smile. Her messages are still on my white board and they continue to make me smile. We like to be around people, especially leaders, who make us smile.

11. Spend more time with kids. We spend time teaching our kids, but quickly forget that we can learn from them too.

12. The best is yet to come! There is a direct correlation between possibility thinking and effort level. I had some wonderful jobs over twenty years, but I believe my next job will be my best job yet and I will find it.

I’ll land somewhere soon and until then I’ll take this time out to do some writing, maybe even build some furniture, and umpire a Little League baseball game. If it’s a bit dark in your world today, maybe these thoughts will inspire the leader in you or at least remind you that “The darkest nights have the brightest stars.”

Have you lost a job? Share your experience and lessons learned.

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