Kindergarten's critical business lessons

Each day I drop my son off for kindergarten, I see valuable management and leadership lessons that any government contractor would be smart to follow.

Twenty-five years ago, there was a very popular book, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.”

Now I don’t remember much about my kindergarten class, other than the big shoe we would pass around to practice tying laces. But my oldest son started kindergarten this year, and he’s coming home with a backpack full of new stuff.

James is learning to read, and his teacher introduces the kids to new sight words. The first week, the word was "I." The second week, it was "Like." The list is growing each week, and it’s exciting to see him learn to read.

Other early lessons are the different jobs each child has each day, and how, before they move to the next activity, they have to clean up from the previous one. It’s about keeping order, but also about respect for the classroom and your fellow students.

Good lessons to take you through life.

But these are the things I expected from kindergarten. What I didn't expect are the great management and culture lessons coming from Ms. McDermott, James’ principal.

Her weekly newsletter and other emails to parents so often echo the management lessons I hear from executives I talk to in the government market.

James’s school, Pinecrest, is a small private school in Northern Virginia, and one of Ms. McDermott’s themes is the idea of the school as a community of students, parents, teachers, administrators and neighbors.

She revisits this theme to varying degrees in nearly all her correspondence and communications with us. She's also unfailingly enthusiastic, signing off on her notes with Onward!

What I like about her style is that it makes me feel like I’m more than just a customer paying her to educate my child; I’m part of this larger whole, a part of a community.

She backs this up through actions, from knowing parents’ and children’s names, to soliciting and giving feedback, to creating opportunities for parents and students to get more involved.

I’m sure this is a goal of every school, but I know from firsthand experience that many fall short.

The other thing that I’ve been impressed by is that the outreach and community building only starts with Ms. McDermott; you can feel it from every teacher and staffer you interact with.

The leader of any organization, whether a small elementary school or a multi-billion dollar government contractor, needs to understand that lesson – what you value, what you reward, what you emphasize, flow through the entire organization. The leader sets the example.

I’ve heard lots of executives talk about that as being critical to the kind of company culture they are building, and how their success is predicated on employees and customers understanding the company's goals and mission.

And I see that same message every day when I drop my son off for kindergarten.