Leaders aren’t born, they’re developed. And a true leader is a leader in every area of life. Leonard Krog, member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, stated in a May 2006 speech to the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce that “community leadership starts at home.” He went on to say that “parents who are involved in their communities” provide “the best leadership examples. . . . People can do small things, like build a community park in their neighborhood, or big things, like run for public office or join community groups. Be a leader in your family. That’s how you build a strong and healthy community.”
Parents provide the earliest influence on children. By modeling leadership in their own lives, parents profoundly affect the kind of leaders their children become. It helps to see all of this in the long term, because the big-picture view assists in smoothing out the immature peaks and valleys and helps keep goals on track. But training children to be leaders not only takes time (think quantity, not just “quality”) but also guidance in every facet of life, from early childhood on. Here are some ideas to consider:
Take time to know your children. A parent needs to learn to work with each child’s personality, to develop that child’s individual traits and abilities, and sometimes to temper strengths that, left unchecked, would become liabilities. For example, an assertive, outgoing personality is a great trait in a leader, but without self-control that leader will be seen as overly aggressive and controlling.
Take the time to show children where they can learn from other people’s examples. Use examples and outcomes of both right and wrong approaches to situations. Teach them cause and effect—that choices have consequences.
Take the time to understand what problems and issues your children are dealing with, and then guide them to the right decisions by applying the right principles. By instilling principles rather than pat answers to problems, you will give them tools to work with that they can use over and over again in life.
Take the time to praise your children regularly for right choices and gently point out the choice they missed when they go astray. Give them age-appropriate responsibilities and let them stand or fall on their decisions. (Note: Self-esteem comes from knowing you did or are doing the right thing and have earned someone’s praise. It’s not generated from unsupported, manipulative comments designed to make kids—or anyone else for that matter—feel good.)
Take the time to involve your children in family activities and work. Include service projects for those outside your immediate family as well. This will help kids learn responsibility, teamwork (sharing and considering others) and a good work ethic. In his essay titled “Three Roles of the Leader in the New Paradigm,” Stephen Covey wrote, “There is no place where [the] spirit of service can be cultivated like the home. . . . People are supposed to serve. Life is a mission, not a career. . . . It is a source of happiness, because you don’t get happiness directly. It only comes as a by-product of service” (The Leader of the Future, 1996).
Why do all this? Pat Williams (senior vice president of the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic), in researching his book Coaching Your Kids to Be Leaders, asked leaders from many fields to share their insights. Jacksonville University football coach Steve Gilbert offered this bit of wisdom: “I tell young people, ‘It feels good to be a leader!’ Success and failure are part of the adventure of life. Young people need to see that good leaders are important in their community—and there are great rewards for being a good leader. Those rewards include a sense of satisfaction and a feeling that what you are doing is meaningful and significant. You don’t always win when you lead, but that’s okay. Young people should be rewarded and encouraged for stepping up and leading, no matter whether they succeed or fail.”