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Five lessons from kindergarten that professionals need to remember

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Preparing for our professional lives doesn't start at university or high school; it begins on the playground.

Robert Fulghum wrote a book of short essays entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. While I wouldn't say pre-school taught me everything I know, I learned the basic foundations for social interaction. These early lessons shape our personal and professional lives. In my years navigating the business world, I've run into folks who seem to have forgotten or ignore some of those first teachings. Perhaps we'd all benefit from a refresher.

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Lesson #1: Sharing is caring

As early as I can remember, sharing was a lesson taught daily. Share your blocks, share your crayons, and share the swing at recess. Not sharing would result in lectures and time outs. Although it's a basic principle taught early on, the concept of sharing seems foreign to some in the corporate world.

In the office, it's common practice to talk about "owning" or "delegating." However, sharing and collaborating – while often encouraged – aren't always enforced. Reasons range from searching for efficiencies to finding satisfaction executing something solo. However, I truly believe that co-workers need to work together as a solid team. This happens when they share ideas, responsibility and, when necessary, blame. This helps cultivate stronger strategies, spreads the workload and enables employees to share the successes and learn from the failures together.

Lesson #2: Use your words

Clear communication in the office is key. Concise and direct briefs help ensure teams know what success looks like. Also praise and constructive criticism should be communicated in a clear and direct manner to ensure it resonates. Too often, people assume that they're all on the same page. But it's only when you "use your words" that you can be sure everything comes across crystal clear.

Lesson #3: Listen

Using your words only works if you're heard and understood. Children are regularly told to listen and pay attention. When you don't listen, you don't learn. It's more than hearing; it's digesting and evaluating what someone has said.

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Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson has said, "Listening is one of the most important skills I've learned. I know what I think. I'm interested in hearing what other people think." I believe great leaders – and good colleagues – need to welcome and listen to different perspectives to develop strategies that can have a big impact.

Lesson #4: Be kind to one another

Being kind is one of the most important first lessons we're taught. Mind your manners. Say please and thank you. These instructions give us the most basic foundation of social interaction and etiquette. At the office you may not see people pulling each other's hair or stealing each other's toys, yet the same principle applies. Be polite. Appreciate your colleagues' hard work. Offer assistance. Thank people when they've done something for you. A little appreciation goes a long way, and I believe it's necessary to build a strong, productive and happy work force.

Lesson #5: Make work more playful

Play is an important part of the learning process. It's where you get to use your imagination, be creative and have fun. This rings true for the classroom and office space.

"Work hard, play hard" isn't just a catchy phrase people use: it works. Often when workloads get heavier, play is the first thing out the door. However, it's important to take a few minutes throughout the day to strum a guitar, catch up on celeb gossip or play a round of ping pong. These play times could just be when you have that 'aha' moment you've been waiting for.

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We never stop learning. Though we many need a refresher from time to time, even our earliest life lessons – sharing, communicating, listening, caring, and balancing work and play – are important and remain relevant in our professional lives. So please take this reminder and, as Fulghum said "go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together."

Joseph Ottorino (@joseph_ottorino) is managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada (@virginmobilecan).

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