When we talk about developing leadership skills in children, we’re often met with a sigh, “Oh my kids not ready for that…” And yet, most of us take a deliberate approach to developing other skills in our kids early on. We teach them to swim, to ride a bike, to read, and read music, as early as we can. Leadership development should be no different. The earlier we can develop leadership skills in children the more natural these skills will feel.
Dear Karin and David,
You talk about growing leaders. How do I grow leadership skills in my young children? I’m trying hard to give my children the best advantage in life I can, but I can’t find much out there on how to help them develop as leaders. What would you recommend?
Dear Mom Growing Leaders,
Yes! Thank you for asking this important question. It’s a subject we’re very passionate about. Here are few insights from our experience. We hope others will join this conversation and share their experiences and approach as well.
Start with lots of love and building self-esteem. Too many grown-ups with power mess things up because they’re still dealing with childhood muck. Be a role model, and know they’re always watching. Beyond that, here are a few of our favorite approaches for building leadership skills in children.
- Teach them to give.
Join them in volunteer activities talk about the “why” as much as the “what.” Help them look for needs in everyday situations, and to consider how they can improve the scene. Help young children delight in giving and call it leadership. Averie’s experiences building homes in Mexico as a child shaped her leadership roles in college and her eventual career. Learning the servant part of servant leadership is as important as anything else when helping your children develop as leaders. You can help them to find the joy in their work and school assignments.
- Talk to them like grown-ups.
Young children are smarter than they look. Talk about current events. Expose them to people who think differently than you and help them learn to listen and respectfully articulate their own point of view.
- Give them a say in some family decisions.
Pick some decisions where you don’t need control. Invite your young children to brainstorm creative options. Encourage each family member to listen to one another’s viewpoints before deciding as a family.
- Nurture a love of reading.
Read together and talk about the characters and relationships in the stories. For a list of great books to read with your young children click here. (one of the most popular posts every on Let’s Grow Leaders) We would love to have you add your additional suggestions in the comments on that post (we received some great additions from other readers.)
- Teach them to give.
- Bring them along and give them a role.
Kid’s love to see mommy and daddy in action. We’ve taken our children with us as we work and travel, given them concrete roles ranging from working the Verizon booth at a Festival to working the expo floor and promoting our book in Singapore. We’ve explained what we’re doing and why, and ask for their insights. Seb has seen our Diaper Genie™ talk so many times he can give it himself. See also A Great Way to Teach Your Kids About Leadership.
- Admit when you screw up.
Talk about your leadership mess-ups. Kid’s need to know that leaders aren’t perfect and that mistakes are all part of their learning. One of the best ways to develop leadership skills in children is to show them you’re still growing too.
- Hang out with other leaders
So they can see leaders are regular people too. We’ve even included Sebastian on some of our Skype conversations in prepping for our International work—makes it much more meaningful when they meet in person. Sebastian has built his own relationships with leaders around the world and that can be fun for the whole family. Averie regularly spent time with David’s team-leaders, Directors, and Board members, developing her own friendships and business role-models.
- Teach them to craft and deliver a great prayer (or toast) at family gatherings.
“Let’s talk about why we’re gathered and what people may want God to hear ” or “Let’s find some words that would make everyone here feel special before we sit down to eat.” It’s so much fun to see what they come up with. After a few times with some guided help, it’s likely all they’ll need is a nod from you and they’ll know what to do.
- Encourage connections.
Cultivate an awareness of other people, each person’s dignity, and the negative effect of labels. Help them to connect by showing interest. If you want to learn about networking for you or your children this is the post.
- Help them find their own voice.
Help them find cultivate their passions and to talk and write about what they love. If you can get them on a stage early on, it will make speaking to an audience seem like a natural part of life. They might by-pass that fear of so many grown-ups by speaking early and often.
- Ask great questions.
Asking great questions is one of the best ways to help your managers be more strategic. It’s also a great way to develop leadership skills in your kids. “What’s another approach we could try?” “Why do you think that happened?” “What’s the next best choice we could make here?”
Developing leadership skills in children is one of the most important ways to grow our future. Investing just a little time with any of these techniques each week can go a long way in helping your children grow.
If you enjoyed this post, or are a parent looking to help your children develop leadership skills, you can download a FREE ebook Karin wrote in collaboration with Alli Polin a few years ago, write as she was starting Let’s Grow Leaders. A Parent’s Guide to Leadership.
And stay tuned… we have an exciting Let’s Grow Leaders growing leadership skills in children surprise coming later this year.
Karin Hurt David Dye
Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. They are keynote leadership speakers, trainers, and the award-winning authors of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let’s Grow Leaders, their leadership training and consulting firm.