Take a look at the significant leaders in history, and you’ll find that many of them started their leadership early. At age 10, John Quincy Adams had witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill and accompanied his father on a diplomatic mission to France. Louis Braille invented a system of reading and writing for the blind and was already teaching by age 19. And with no disrespect, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat nine months before Rosa Parks did the same.
Many of the truest qualities of leadership are learned as children. Parents don’t simply want their children to grow up, they want those children to become responsible adults who contribute to society. That’s why leadership is such an important thing to explain and teach, on a continuous basis.
Of course, not every person is comfortable in a leadership position … but even those who never find themselves formally leading can still inspire and focus the people around them. At the very least, being able to recognize the traits of a good leader can lead to more informed choices.
To that end, we’re offering a list of 5 ways parents can encourage leadership qualities in their children.
- Point out strong leaders in the public eye. At times it can seem like the world is rudderless, but that is all the more reason to make sure children know there are still plenty of strong, inspiring adults doing what it takes to make a difference. Point out and reinforce examples of leaders in business, medicine, government, and the arts.
- Say what you mean … and teach kids to do that same. Underscore effective communication by eliminating indeterminate language. Eschew constant caveats like maybe, possibly, and perhaps, and emphasize expressions of conviction: “I can,” “I will,” I know,” and the like.
- Make it safe to fail. We all know life is hard; pretending it isn’t never teaches the right lessons. Children must be willing to fail … and that means adults have to make it failure a normal part of the process. Each failed effort offers an opportunity to help your child figure out what went wrong and what could be done better next time.
- Encourage kindness and other leader-like behavior. Encourage kids to notice and compliment each other on things that matter: intelligence, compassion, or perseverance, for example. Today’s society too often focuses on competition, but the best leaders are able to recognize–and support–other people’s strengths.
- Teach and practice smart decision-making. Adults are typically used to balancing the pros and cons before making a decision, but kids often don’t think that way: what they want or how they feel at the time is more a factor than logic. Take time to show your child the wisdom of writing out the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.
It takes years of practice and observation to learn to become good leaders. And it’s not like that is a parent’s only job: you’re also trying to keep your kids safe in an increasingly dangerous world (as demonstrated by cyber security expert Monica Eaton-Cardone).
The number one suggestion for helping your child understand leadership? Be an example. Talking to your kids about being leaders is a good start, but showing them through your actions is even better. Children respond best to what adults do more than what adults say, so actions speak louder than words.