Over the years I’ve encouraged and challenged my children using some key phrases. “Be the leader” is one of the top two. I’ve been making this statement with my son, Austin, for at least 10 years, and he has heard me say it a million times to his older brother and sister. As I write this, Austin is now a senior in high school and is in his final season of high school sports. Through his football and basketball seasons, I’ve observed him:
- Exhorting teammates whose attitudes and actions were getting the team in trouble.
- Rallying the team when they were discouraged.
- Not letting the scoreboard dictate his spirit when they were behind.
- Modeling the right attitude and spirit with the coaches and referees.
- Encouraging everyone to unite as a team.
One night after a game, I spoke with one of the referees to express my appreciation for the consistent way in which they called the game. In the conversation the referee asked who my son was, so I described him. The referee immediately said “Austin is your son?” Then proceeded to express appreciation for Austin’s attitude, his polite and respectful interaction between them, and complimented him for being a leader on the court.
Austin isn’t the best player on the team. He doesn’t score the most points, doesn’t get the most play time, and doesn’t start every game, but he has taken the “be the leader” directive to heart. As a 17-year-old he’s been learning to lead on the basketball court, on the football field, at youth group, and hopefully with his friends.
Leadership is learned through the head, the heart, and the hands, each of which play a vital role in cementing our leadership skills.
Here are six ways we help our children become leaders:
1. Leadership comes from understanding the principles.
Our children need to understand the recipe of leadership; they need to understand the ingredients from which it is made. Do you want to bake a great apple pie? Then you need to understand what goes into it. Every parent should take their children through The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell. Outside of the Bible, it is the de facto book on leadership. Buy this book for each of your children, then read and discuss each chapter together, sharing stories from your life and experience. You will not only teach them leadership, you will connect with your children in a deep and meaningful way.
I will study and prepare, and someday my opportunity will come. – Abraham Lincoln
2. Leadership comes from seeing good examples
People do what they see, and in order to be a good leader, they need to see good leadership. As parents we can do this a couple of ways:
- We need to model and be an example of what good leadership looks like. It needs to start with us!
- We need to find great leaders and figure out ways to connect them with our children. Leaders say things and influence our children in ways we can’t, and when combined with parents that lead well, it’s a powerful one-two punch.
Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means. – Albert Schweitzer
3. Leadership comes from seeing bad examples.
Everybody needs to work for a terrible leader at some point. We need to see, feel, and experience the fallout of bad leadership. Experiencing the fallout has a way of deepening our desire to not be like them and provokes one to excellence. One word of caution—if all you ever see and experience is self-absorbed, weak, or unprincipled leaders, you will become like them. We should allow our children to work under bad leadership, but only for a short season.
As leaders we will all reproduce who we are. – Dave Ferguson
4. Leadership comes from opportunity.
Having opportunities to lead gives our children a chance to practice, fail, and succeed—to see the results of their efforts. It means we must let them branch out; give them a chance to be leaders and make decisions. My wife and I have encouraged our children to work at summer camp, and have pushed them to step up and lead on the jobs they’ve been given. As parents we need to find leadership opportunities in which they can participate. Word of Life Summer Camp Crew is something our children have participated in all of their lives and a great opportunity to practice leading.
“Opportunity and practice are the natural parents of leadership.” – John Adair
5. Leadership comes from learning
Leaders are learners, and if we are going to grow our children into leaders, we must develop in them the desire to learn. If we as parents aren’t willing to learn, we will struggle to help our children grow in their leadership. They need to see us growing and learning. We’ve all heard the phrase “leaders are readers.” If we’re going to develop leaders, we need to develop in them the desire to read. When my children were younger, I would staple money in the back of a book and tell them they could have the money when the book was finished. If they wanted books, I would buy them. Developing the desire to read is key to helping our children become leaders.
Also, great leadership training opportunities can be a huge learning boost. Student Leadership University is an awesome way to accomplish this.
“The day you stop learning is the day you stop leading.” – Hans Zimmer
6. Leadership comes from being coached
Self-made leaders tend to be self-absorbed and shallow; great leaders are shaped by great coaches. As a parent we are the first of hopefully many coaches our children will have in their leadership journey. This means:
- First, we must be leaders. As parents we must grow our leadership skills because we will coach our children’s early foundational skills.
- Second, we must always be looking for ways to bring leadership growth into the conversation.
One of the exercises I love doing with my children is helping them spot both good and bad leadership. My boys and I were sitting at a huge, public high school basketball game, and l asked them which of the coaches was a good leader and which was a bad leader. We then talked through the character qualities, and I helped them spot and dissect what to look for and why it was important. We’ll watch a movie together and I’ll ask them which leadership law (from The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell) was used or broken. We are their first and most foundational leadership coach.
“If you look carefully at the careers of outstanding leaders in any field, you usually find that they learnt most about leadership not from courses or books but by serving their apprenticeship with a master-leader.” – John Adair
Growing our children into leaders begins with us as parents. How well we do will show as they grow and mature. Do you have other great ways of teaching leadership? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
Purchase The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell here
Check out Word of Life Summer Camp Crew here
Check out Student Leadership University here