10 Life and Leadership Lessons You Should Have Learned as a Kid

by Alli Polin on April 11, 2017

It’s school holiday time in Australia, and for the first time in a long time our family decided to stay in town. No big events planned, my kids are simply hanging out (and I’m trying to squeeze in some work). 

Watching them play and interact with their friends makes me think about who they’re becoming – who’ll they’ll be when they grow up. Oh, and notice I didn’t say what they’ll be when they grow up. This isn’t about their future income potential, title or career success when you’re talking about an 11-year-old… we’re talking life success. You know, happy, healthy, self-aware and other-aware. The stuff that matters. 

I could write an entire blog post about my little angels… but I’d be lying. This morning we yelled at each other at least five times between breakfast and lunch. 

Clean your room!

Not now!

Teeth! Now!


Where did this (insert whatever toy or wrapper you want) come from?

It’s not mine! I didn’t leave it there!

Enough tech time!

I’m playing!


As I try to raise good children it hit me – I’m trying to raise future good adults. Adults who respect others, work hard, are persistent, resilient, passionate, welcoming, confident, creative… Yes, I know that I can only do so much and the rest is up to them. I also know that raising my voice only makes my message louder, not more impactful. 

When I look around the places I’ve worked, I’ve seen more than a few adults who missed some of the key lessons they should have learned as a kid. They moved from being terrors on the play yard to jerks in the office. 

10 Life and Leadership Lessons You Should Have Learned as a Kid

Name Calling Never Makes Friends

Believe it or not, putting others down and calling them names still happens at work. “What, are you stupid?” “You’re an idiot.” Want to lose respect fast and have people run to work somewhere new? Keep it up. 

Not Every Opinion You Have Should Be Shared

There’s this thought that if you’re in charge, things have to be done your way. Clearly, it’s the best way. Right? Wrong. 

Pick Your Battles

Always fighting, even over the small stuff, means that when the big stuff comes along, you’ve watered down your leadership. 

Boss Doesn’t Mean Better

In a recent workshop I ran for primary school leaders, a few told me they were chosen because they’re better than their peers. No, they represent their peers and are responsible for leading – not better. 

You Get What You Get, and You Don’t Get Upset

There are people who can get the best out of two toothpicks and a ball of twine and others who freak out when they’re dealt 99% of what they wanted. Deep breath. Disappointment happens. You can’t lose control of your emotions and do your best to move forward at the same time.

Temper Tantrums Won’t Get You What You Want

It’s one thing when a kid throws a temper tantrum, but if you’ve ever been behind the closed door while an adult does it, it’s scary. Should also mention, most doors are not sound proof. 

Not Everyone Will Like You

This is a tough one to learn. No matter what you do and how much you want to be liked, not everyone will. It’s okay. Surround yourself with the people who do. 

One Bad Thing Doesn’t Make a Bad Day

Ever let one bad moment define your day? No matter what good follows, it’s invisible because all you can see is the bad thing. Choose to have a better day tomorrow. Your attitude creates your experience. 

When You Fall Down, Get Back Up

Kids trip and fall all the time. They don’t lay there and decide they’ll never go back to class or can never face their friends again. Stand up, brush off, keep going.

You Won’t Always Win 

Some kids are spared hurt feelings at every turn and never learn what it’s like to lose. Conversely, they never really learn what it means to win – or what it takes. People who learn to lose with grace, without telling themselves that they’re a loser, are the ultimate winners in life.  

The list goes on and on… It was tough picking only ten lessons that adults should have learned as a kid. Here are five more to consider:

  • There are consequences to your actions
  • You can’t say you can’t play
  • Unfortunately, not everything is the fun stuff – do it anyway
  • People won’t clean up your mess for you
  • The learning never stops

What would you add?

The question we’re left with is: Is it too late for you and me? 

If you have bad personal leadership practices, can you realistically change them now? The answer is an emphatic “YES!” However, here are a few things that have to happen first.

  1. Recognize the need to change. Truly. Be honest with yourself.
  2. Enlist support to shift from your current way of leading and way of being to a new, more effective approach.
  3. Acknowledge that it won’t be easy and you will have setbacks.
  4. Hold yourself accountable to make the leap.
  5. Continue to reassess your progress and continue down the path of change.

What are the biggest lessons you learned as a kid?

What do you teach your children? 

Would love to hear your thoughts. 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass April 11, 2017 at 10:03 am

Love your post Alli! We do learn so much in childhood that helps form us into functional or not so functional adults. I learned a lesson from my dad that looking at our challenges as a game can be so helpful. This really came into play when I had to figure out the politics in a bank. So difficult but yet when I looked at the players and the crazy rules it empowered me to just be me.
Thanks Alli and will share!


Alli Polin April 12, 2017 at 6:30 am

How fantastic! Looking at challenges like a game totally changes our mindset. I think I’m going to steal that tactic and use it with my coaching clients and in my life too.

Thanks, Terri!


Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ April 11, 2017 at 10:15 am

I truly love this post Alli. It brings the wisdom of the ages to a forward momentum of growth.

Nicely done!


Alli Polin April 12, 2017 at 6:30 am

Grateful for your support and feedback, Kate!



John Bennett April 11, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Such an important distinction: “… who they’re becoming – who’ll they’ll be when they grow up. Oh, and notice I didn’t say what they’ll be when they grow up.” I recall once, at a party, a parent came up to me and asked, once she confirmed I was university faculty): “Is fourth grade too early to select a career?” My answer was obvious, noting fourth graders might choose fireman or some other career they notice at that age. (Nothing wrong with choosing a career as a fireman by the way …) Seems her daughter was being pushed by her fourth grade teacher to choose a career!!!

But lots of reasons to learn the lessons on how to be who they want to be when they grow up. Again, personal story: We made a habit of taking our really young children to ‘non-fancy’ restaurants regularly. Our daughters did the same with their kids. When the grandkids were in the 7-12 age range, we all went to a nice restaurant for my wife’s birthday. All five grandchildren sat at one end of the table. I saw a couple at a nearby table cringe and roll their eyes… When the left, they came over to me to confirm their fears and to say what a pleasure it was to observe our grandchildren’s behaviors.

Love the list! “Boss Doesn’t Mean Better” is my favorite by the way.


Alli Polin April 12, 2017 at 6:33 am

Is fourth grade too early to select a career! 🙂 I’ll bet there are a few who follow their passion into adulthood but to have a teacher suggesting that they need reasonable career direction at that age is ridiculous.

Love your story too. Not only did they learn young but ties in nicely with another post I’m writing…. about what happens when we make snap judgments instead of waiting for (or seeking) understanding. Hope your family showed that not every child in a nice restaurant is going to ruin a meal and people remember that dinner.

As always, thanks so much for adding depth to the discussion.



Chery Gegelman April 11, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Alli – I love, love, love this post!

I just gave a series of workshops to students from 7th grade to seniors that emphasized some of the lessons that many adults don’t know – these are beautiful additions!


Alli Polin April 12, 2017 at 6:35 am

Funny, we’ve both been spending some time in schools sharing leadership lessons. Learning early is the best way to go! Will you continue to offer leadership workshops in high schools? It’s a brilliant way to share your knowledge and experience living overseas too.

Thanks, Chery!



Dan April 11, 2017 at 11:36 pm

Thanks for sharing. My (late) mother taught me a number of invaluable lessons – such as ‘we sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do’, and ‘when faced with a choice of being right or being nice, be nice’.


Alli Polin April 12, 2017 at 6:36 am


Those are both pretty fantastic and oh-so-true. Also, terrific reminders for me and others too. 🙂

Thanks so much!




Gary Gruber April 15, 2017 at 8:43 am

Love all your posts, and especially this one as it brings the message home in so many ways. There’s nothing like the home lab with kids as a place to learn some of life’s enduring lessons. I can recall clearly my kids interacting with each other and one of the thing I heard often was “You’re not the boss of me.”
One of the more hurtful things we heard from the two older children to the youngest of three was, “You can’t play with us, we’re doing the two thing.” Talk about rejection and being left out! There it was in spades and we had to find a way to negotiate a better solution. Because I was in graduate school with three young kids and I was studying child development and family relations, I often used them without their knowing and taped many conversations. What a mother lode that was!
Thanks, Alli, for sharing these terrific insights that will stand the test of time. And by the way, it’s never too late to learn something new because I am still learning and loving it.


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