The preparation to be an authentic leader will last at least as long as our children are under our roof. We train the foundations of leadership early in childhood. Over the course of years we help our developing offspring master public speaking, time management, executive functioning skills, and social skills. Hopefully we have a servant’s heart and can mentor our children in that area. We help our kids develop step-by-step, skill-by-skill, year-by-year. But the day comes when all the training must blossom into leadership in the real world if we would help our children reach their potential.
In our homeschool, it was required that each student tackle a huge leadership project before they graduated. Leadership training was just as important (but not more important) than calculus. Why?
While it may sound harsh, I wanted to shake my children up and see what they were made of. Through my years as a Youth Development Specialist and even more years as a parent, I have learned that when kids have real responsibilities, when someone is depending on them, when someone might suffer if they don’t do their job, the experience fundamentally changes them.
I never set my children up to fail, but I made the bar high enough that failure was a possibility. It is risky, but I wanted to be there to catch them if they botched an activity. It would be devastating for that to occur in college when they are far from home.
Watching my children perform in leadership roles also gave me the opportunity to evaluate their strength and maturity. Did they maintain grace under pressure? Did they remain kind even if others were not kind to them? When they hit the wall, did they crumble and remain in the heap or did they get up and figure out how to work smarter next time? Did the experience damage their faith or strengthen it? These are important things to know before we send our kids into the war zone that is college.
Let me give you an example of a leadership project that stretched my youngest student, utilized all her skills, and gave her a chance to make her world a better place. My daughter had mastered the tasks I set in front of her throughout her childhood and was ready to spread her wings. Together we brainstormed for ways to use her skills to benefit the community. After several months, she found what she was looking for.
While Natalie was a performance violinist, an accomplished public speaker, an organizer extraordinaire, she also had a heart that wept over the number of abortions that happen in our country. When Natalie heard that our local Pregnancy Care Center ministry needed funds for an ultrasound machine, she came up with a plan to organize a benefit concert. She’d never seen it done before, but she was convinced that she could pull it off even though she was only 16.
She requested a slot on the board meeting agenda and proceeded to stun board members with her unusual plan. She secured the largest church in town as the venue and contacted the music ministers of all area churches for performers from their congregations. She invited Christian music professors at the local college to participate as well. She asked each performer to be responsible for getting their church family to come. The final product was a wild mix of classical, instrumental, a capella, Christian contemporary, and praise music.
She convinced the local radio tycoon to give her free air time to run commercials that she wrote and produced, persuaded all the local printing companies to donate materials for the ad campaign she designed and promoted the concert to local media (appearing live on radio programs and interviewing with newspaper reporters). She spoke at local civics groups. She designed the short program that played before the concert telling about the Center’s work and facts about the baby growing in the womb. She organized and performed in a piano trio with two university professors, worked with the sound technician and set-up crew and emceed the concert.
Natalie galvanized the community and the night of the concert there was a great turnout. The funds helped finance new equipment for the center, provided training for staff and board members, and helped stabilize the budget.
Basically, this young girl received great training in advertising, sales, and management. She learned important lessons about herself and her ability to deal with the organizational issues that such a huge project presented. Most adults would never attempt a leadership feat like this one; however, for my 16-year-old daughter, it was just another stretching experience. She was ready for the challenge because I started giving her important work to do as a toddler. Therefore, she came to the job with 14 years of experience under her belt.
Of course I was in the background, brainstorming with her, helping her think through flow charts, debriefing. But my role got smaller as she found her voice and her strength.
What can you do today to mentor your child to authentic leadership?