The management lessons of childhood tantrums

A five-year-old's outburst provides Debra Allcock Tyler with some useful insights into management

My five-year-old nephew Charlie recently made a mad dash for freedom from the tyranny of parents, specifically his mother.

It all started with a small contretemps over the best use of his time. He felt that watching Ben 10 was a perfectly acceptable option, but my sister, his mum, was in favour of him spending an hour practising his reading. Unusually, he was unable to persuade her of the merits of his rival option.

So he decided to depart the Houghton-Clarke residence, declaring that life at home was intolerable. He packed his little Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase with his favourite toys (Ben 10 merchandise, inevitably), his toothbrush and toothpaste and a spare pair of underpants. The front door proved to be something of an obstacle and, after much kicking and banging, his mother relented (trying hard to hide her laughter) and opened it for him. He charged out and promptly fell over his suitcase. He threw his body on the ground and thrashed around in frustration and despair.

"Oh dear," my sister said. "It's not going well, is it?" At which point, bless his funny little heart, he started to laugh. A few hugs and an episode of Ben 10 later, harmony was restored.

For me, this little vignette contains some useful messages for leaders. The first is not to react in the moment in a state of anger or frustration because things didn't go according to plan or you didn't get what you wanted. Setbacks are all part of the leadership journey, and you are less likely to choose the right course of action in the heat of the moment.

Next, whatever you do decide to do, make sure you have the resources to help you carry it through (a spare pair of undies always comes in handy). Don't give up when you meet obstacles, and remember it might be your perceived 'enemy' who actually helps you achieve your goal.

And finally - and for me so importantly - maintain a sense of humour. It helps to laugh in the face of adversity. Keep a sense of perspective, for goodness sake. Whatever the challenges you and your organisation are facing right now, remember: this is only part of life, not all of life.

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and a trustee of MedicAlert


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