Are You a Better Than a Second Grader?

When my son was in second grade, I attended a parent-teacher conference at his school. The teacher shared with me a new system they were using to evaluate the growth and performance of the kids. As I glanced over the evaluation form it struck me that things don’t change all that much from second grade to the adult world when it comes to what matters most. The parameters they were evaluating for 7 year olds are much the same as the ones most organizations use to evaluate their leaders, whether they are written down or not. Take a look at the list below and think about whether your practice would be better off if the leaders in it evaluated themselves on these second grade criteria.

Self Directed Learner: The ability to be responsible for one’s own learning

  • Works independently but asks for help when needed
  • Organizes their workplace and materials
  • Makes productive use of their time
  • Sets goals

One of the biggest deficits I see in leaders is the desire to continuously learn and grow, especially after they’ve reached a high leadership role in the practice. There is often a perception that since they are now in charge, they have to have all of the answers. That belief keeps some leaders from admitting they need help and therefore opening the door for learning. In some practices or on some teams, the leader may fall behind second graders in this category. Kids know they are in school to learn. As leaders, our job is still to learn from others around us and the mistakes we make. The other challenge I often see in this area is that leaders set practice goals but not personal growth goals. If we don’t view our opportunity to lead as an opportunity to grow, we won’t.

Complex Thinker: The ability to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving strategies

  • Uses prior knowledge and experience to solve problems
  • Explains answers and makes adjustments when necessary
  • Solves problems in different ways

Clearly we expect leaders to be able to tackle tough problems and be creative when solving difficult challenges. Many leaders struggle with explaining the answers as well as making adjustments. Sometimes it is politically tough in an organization to admit your first solution was wrong and needed to be changed. In fact, this is not often easy for second graders, or any of us. But the leaders that stand out understand that the goal of getting better is more important than the need to be right.

Effective Communicator: The ability to communicate effectively

  • Speaks effectively in front of a group
  • Listens attentively to gain understanding
  • Follows directions
  • Contributes effectively through speaking drawing and writing

Communication is one of the traditional hallmarks of a great leader. We don’t always need leaders to be great orators. But we do need them to be clear and effective communicators and that includes being good listeners. Most leaders aren’t. That might be because most people aren’t. Listening is one of the hardest things for any individual to do well. It means that we put ourselves aside and focus on the needs, wants, ideas, and desires of others. Most of us have to work very hard at that and it is a rare individual that can do this naturally or consistently. It is not easy, but if you want to lead your team and your practice, you have to learn how to listen.

These were just the first three components of evaluation for second graders. How much better would we be as leaders if we used the same criteria to evaluate ourselves? I’m sure there are days when my child scores better than I do when it comes to learning, problem-solving, and communicating. I hope he can continue to teach me how to become a more effective leader.


  1. Sometimes we all just need a little reminder that the skills to be a successful leader are not exceptional! We all can become better leaders if we are willing to listen and learn everyday.

  2. That’s a great way to put it Jack! We do not have to be superhuman to be great leaders. We just need to keep improving in a few small ways that make a big difference.

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