Raising Tomorrow's Leaders Today
The world is focused on leadership right now. Tough times are ahead for our nation and for the world. We’d better get serious about preparing our children for leadership. Some little eight-year-old running around the playground right now could control three-fourths of the world’s armaments in the future. What are the characteristics of great leaders? If we can figure that out, there is hope for us to instill those character traits in our children.
Great leaders use group consensus in data gathering but not in decision making. Leaders, by definition, aren’t in the group. They are either in at the edge of the group or flat out outside it. By definition, they encourage others to their point of view, pick the direction and lead toward a goal.
By definition, you cannot lead by being inside the herd and part of the “group- think.” Thus, leadership is often lonely. Only a real leader will have true legions of critics. In retrospect, as we celebrate the great leaders of the past, it is easy to forget that in their day, Washington, Lincoln, Churchill and Martin Luther King were all excoriated by large segments of the public. I believe it was Lincoln that said, “Leadership is known by the enemies it makes.” Leadership is the opposite of bowing to peer pressure. Churchill stood lonely and alone standing up to Hitler when the entire rest of the world attempted appeasement.
That being said, how do we encourage leadership in our children?
Reward Leadership Traits:
1. Encourage your child’s standing up to you by respectfully giving good counter-proposals and thoughtful disagreements. I’m not talking rebellious disrespect, I’m talking about parents who encourage their child to express different ideas and different beliefs and parents who listen respectfully, while not necessarily agreeing with their child.
2. Let your children know how proud you are of them when they don’t simply give in to group pressure around clothes, music, and choice of friends. The movie, A Walk to Remember, should be watched together by every parent and teen. I’ve seen many a kid stand a bit straighter when parents have been taught to say, “Yeah, John, it looks like you are pretty alone on this idea. Perhaps it’s preparation for leadership one day.”
3. Encourage respectful competition in the area of your children’s strengths. Be it sports or chess, it’s great if your child wants to be the best. Don’t stifle it, encourage it!
4. Great leaders have internal compasses. Encourage your child to self- evaluate, rather than rely on your praise. It’s okay to say “good job, son” but it may be more effective to say, “How do you think you did?”; “How did you figure that one out?”; “How do you feel about yourself now?”; “Would you do it any different next time?”
This possibility of leadership is cooked into kids by parental expectations. Often leadership runs in families. It’s probably not necessarily genetics, but more in the atmosphere of expectation present in the homes that turn out greatness. Unspoken perhaps, but nevertheless expressed: “You may be born to do great things.” It’s a great dad that says to his teen, “John, that language may work for the group you are with now, but someday, when you are a leader, you’ll have to talk differently. Mom and I would certainly appreciate a little early practice!”
Of course, the hard part for all of us is modeling. We better make darn sure we don’t drive one car or another because it is the popular thing to do, live in one home or another because everyone wants to live there, or hold opinions because they are popular. Good luck!
Foster W. Cline, MD