You CAN train leaders! Parents are often amazed to learn that they can train their children to be leaders. Most people think you are either born a leader or you are not. You either have the gift of charisma or you don’t. Nothing could be further from the truth! Obviously God hardwired our children’s personality, abilities, and gifts. We can’t change that and certainly wouldn’t want to. But it is my belief that our children are given to us as diamonds in the rough that need some polishing in order to reach the radiance of their full potential.
Look at your kids with honest eyes
Try to step back and be an objective third party. Do you see weaknesses that need shoring up before they get to adulthood – things that will impede them in their life? Leadership training is an excellent way to help them step out of their comfort zone and into the fullness of who they could become.
Do you see sparkling gifts – those things that come so easily to your child? Thoughtful parenting can unleash those gifts to bless the world. However, either scenario requires that we guide our children past what is comfortable for them and into stretching experiences. How do you do that?
Give them important work at young ages – One of my students was a born leader and I just had to refine her plans. My other student was a reluctant leader who had to be coached in baby steps for years!
Accept leadership responsibilities as a family and give each child their own tiny role – I was the leader of our Christian homeschooling group, so they helped me do the background work to organize meetings. This taught them executive skills such as how to plan agendas, produce handouts, etc. My husband was an elected official and the chairman of our county political party and they shadowed him at community meetings or events. They learned how to meet and greet people, how to officiate at meetings, how to follow the flow of fast paced debate. We volunteered at church and they pitched in and were always in the middle of whatever we were doing.
Find or create a venue to teach them the skills they need – To teach public speaking and presentation skills (essential for any leader), I started a communications club for our homeschool group and, from the age of 5, my kids gave monthly presentations. This delighted my daughter and terrified my son. He stuttered, got sick to his stomach, and was as stiff as a board for several years but the group loved him through his fear.
As children become more mature, turn over increasing responsibility – When your students master a concept, set your sights on another skill. As you do this, it is important to prepare them for the next level, therefore we practiced. A LOT. For example, when one of my children had to make an important phone call to arrange for speakers or a venue or to solicit donations, we role played ahead of time and let them get comfortable with what could potentially take place. After the call was over, we analyzed the conversation to see how it could have been more effective.
Once my son became a little bit comfortable as a speaker, I volunteered him to teach small merit badge lessons at Boy Scout meetings. A few years later he got volunteered to teach a weeklong class at Cub Scout day camp. As a young boy, he really dreaded these kinds of things, but by the time he was 16, he was traveling across the state speaking to groups of parents in an effort to build a public policy training organization for teens. He increased the size of the program seven-fold in one year and, when he confidently made a speech from the rostrum of the state capitol, I knew the years of work had paid off.
Now, it would have saved me lots of time to do all these things myself, but my kids would have learned nothing in the process. I also had to swallow my pride and be willing to let them fail publicly and embarrass me. It didn’t happen often, but they learned more when they messed up.
Don’t fix things immediately – When my kids did hit a snag, I waited for them to figure out the problem rather than jump in with solutions. If you fix everything for them, they will never learn to stand on their own or to take full responsibility for their actions. By stepping back, we also allow them to gain the confidence to make their own decision and to troubleshoot when things go haywire.
An unexpected advantage to this kind of training is that when kids have helped organize events, have served behind the scenes as well as on stage, they take into adulthood an appreciation for the work involved in any organization or event. They are grateful to others who expend time in their behalf.
Early volunteering is not leadership, but it does help children see what leadership entails so that it is a natural progression as they work their way up the ladder. This is the stage of skill development, teaching those things they will need to be successful as a leader and successful in life.
Remember, student leadership training can begin at an early age. And, quite frankly, it’s easier on your student if it does. If your child is an extreme introvert like my son, or myself, it is much more difficult to learn to be a leader in the teen years and almost impossible in adulthood.