September 15, 2010
Terrible Twos = Successful CEOs?
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Monday's Financial Times struck a chord with my own domestic life.  Author Lucy Kellaway treated readers to an extended comparison of toddlers and CEOs. A sample:

Both groups tend to swagger round with a wide-legged gait.  Both say "mine" a lot and are exceedingly bad at sharing.  Both have short attention spans.  Both lack common sense and have issues with listening.  CEOs and toddlers are also hazy about the existence of other human beings, tending to view them as objects.  They both inspire fear in the hearts of their handlers.  And anyone who has observed how toddlers behave on aircraft will realise why it is a good idea for CEOs to travel in private jets. 

But a reader pointed out some good toddler/CEO traits:

  • Toddlers are fully of energy and enthusiasm. You can't beat a toddler who is really into something and going for it 100 per cent.
  • Toddlers are natural risk-takers. They throw themselves into climbing down the banisters in the boldest, bravest fashion.
  • Toddlers are persistent. When told not to smear jam on a DVD, they will wait a couple of minutes and then do it again.
  • Toddlers are inquisitive. They will not be fobbed off with a stock reply but go on asking "why? why? why?"

Kallaway adds more qualities: that two-year-olds are "assertive and jolly good at saying no.  They are not hamstrung by inhibitions...They are good at making decisions." 

How funny is this to those of you without toddlers?  To me it's hilarious.  But it also speaks to a dilemma my husband and I have discussed more than once.  Our parental role, as I understand it, is to socialize our children.  Teach them to share, play nicely, don't shout, don't run, be careful.  Listen to me.  Because I said so. 

But it seems like CEOs and similar high fliers don't heed these lessons.  They're stubbornly convinced that they're right all the time--that's what leads them to take risks no sane person would ever take.  You get the feeling it would be exhausting and frustrating to live with Steve Jobs, let alone work for him.  Try telling him he's wrong or needs to listen.  You think a little time-out is going to change his mind?  Did his parents even try?  Should they have?  By trying to socialize our children are we also squelching them?  Does discipline doom our daughters to a life of paycheck toil rather than multimillion-dollar bonus bliss?

I don't know.  We're still teaching our daughters to share and clean up after themselves.  They can learn to be self-absorbed and stubborn after they leave the nest.  Isn't that what college is for?

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