Kindergarten Lessons for Financial Services Executives

Brian King

Many fondly recall their kindergarten years. The teachers had a supernatural power to transform children into students while also starting the learning process of basic life skills. Interestingly, many of these kindergarten lessons are just as important for financial services executives today, even more so for mortgage bankers going through tough times.

A best-selling book on this subject, Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” explores common lessons typically learned in kindergarten classrooms and applies them to adults as they carry powerful implications for executives.

Some key principles shared by Fulghum, as well as additional thoughts captured through interviews with kindergarten teachers can prove beneficial for financial services executives interested to rediscover the optimism, boundless energy, and determination of a kindergarten student. The following parallels are worth reviewing. 


A difficult task for the kindergarten teacher is training the children when to talk and when to listen. Everyone wants to be heard and it appears each student has something important to share, but there must be order and discipline. The teacher instructs the students on classroom order and this begins with listening skills.

Some executives have an opinion about every single topic and feel it absolutely must be shared. As a result, meetings sometimes become more of an impromptu speech than a dialogue. Remember you have two ears, but only one mouth. Given this basic biological fact it seems we all need to listen at least twice as much as we talk.

Various studies have confirmed most people are ineffective listeners. After listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, “the average listener has heard, understood and retained 50% of what was said. Within 48 hours, that drops off another 50% to a final level of 25% efficiency.”

Multitasking and constant distractions draw our attention away. During meetings, focus on the speaker and remain attentive to the conversation. Three best practices for listening include:

•Anticipate the speaker's next point.

• Identify the supporting elements a speaker uses in building points.

• Make mental summaries as you listen.

During conference calls, the mute button does not provide an automatic permission to tune-out of the conversation. Many times when a question is asked of someone calling in remotely, they immediately ask you to repeat the question.

Sometimes this is due to technical difficulties such as rustling papers or muffled speakers. However, other times the employee simply tuned-out and needs help re-engaging in the meeting. If you simply do not have the time to dedicate to a particular meeting consider sending a designee.

One bank executive posted to his Facebook page, “I'm sitting in a corporate training seminar and falling asleep. Any ideas on how to pass the time?” The suggestions received were humorous, but the problem is real. How can employees stay engaged?

While focusing on a monotone voice immediately after lunch in a warm room can be challenging, my recommendation to this executive is to listen. Listen for new information and validate the information you’ve already learned.

Another best practice is listening with a critical ear to identify any discrepancies or areas for further clarification. You can follow-up after the training or meeting to confirm your understanding. Remember, the more you listen, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more valuable you are to the organization. 


“Mine” is a frequent word used by toddlers. They believe possession is 99% of the law and whoever has the most toys wins. Unfortunately, some adults still have this impression. Building professional or personal empires is not necessary. After all, a famous carpenter once stated, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

Many executives create their own domains or fiefdoms where they control access to information, products, or technology. This control gives them power, and power gives them security. However, it is generally more beneficial for the company and the employees to share.

How can others in the organization benefit from the assets within your division or department? How do decisions you make impact the overall greater good of the corporation? Sharing resources can be mutually beneficial and helps to build a cooperative team spirit with others.

For those who are out of the practice of sharing resources, there is another sharing skill often all too familiar—sharing the blame. Too many times employees want to point a finger, misrepresent information, or pull other employees needlessly into a problem. Since appropriate accountability is important, develop effective processes and controls to create clear lines of communication and responsibility.

One charity organization considered adding a chief responsibility officer, or CRO, with the sole duty of holding everyone accountable. Often there is waste, apathy, or inefficiencies in organizations as well as in individual performance. Focus on who can serve as your personal and corporate CRO to help you achieve your goals and objectives.

Play Fair

The original movie “Wall Street” shows corporate banker Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) slyly sharing "greed, for lack of a better word, is good." Some today still believe in a “success by any means necessary” strategy. Besides the desire to have a clear conscious, playing fair with others can have profound effects.

A recent study by the Ethics Resource Center showed 49% of U.S. employees had witnessed misconduct on the job. Former Rep. Michael Oxley, co-sponsor of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and chairman of the ERC board of directors, said, “Business ethics is one of the pillars of a strong economy and in today’s environment, it is more important than ever that our nation’s business leaders set and meet the highest standards of ethical conduct.”

But playing fair is much more than just being ethical. When we play fair, decisions are made on fact and not emotion. Communication is solid, consistent and transparent. Teamwork is valued and rewarded. A favorite acronym for team is Together Everyone Achieves More.