Raising a Young Leader – 6 tips

Happy young man standing with raised hands on meadow with dandelions

Every child has the potential to be a leader. Sure, some have more natural leadership traits and instincts than others, but every kid has the ability to ‘learn’ how to be a leader.

Below is a list of 6 things you can do for your children to help them realize their leadership potential.

  1. Role Model – there is an old saying ‘kids may fail to listen to their parents, but they never fail to imitate them’. Show them how you don’t need a title, like a captain or boss to be a leader. Leadership is about doing the small things like finding your voice when you see an injustice, having an opinion on issues and being passionate about community and others. If they see you being a bystander then they are likely to be one also.
  2. Teach them to persevere – unless the situation is truly untenable, don’t let your children quit just because things are tough. If it’s simply because they aren’t doing well remind them of all the people who overcame adversity and eventually succeeded. Tenacity is not a trait we talk about often, but it is an invaluable life skill we can use at any age. Recognize when they are being tenacious and compliment them on it.
  3. Teach them to communicate – start early by getting your children to learn how to address people with a simple ‘hello’. If you make excuses that they are shy, they will stay shy. If you keep answering every question put to your kid they will never learn how to answer for themselves. Encourage them to share their opinions, build arguments and stand up for what they believe in (even if you don’t). Communicating is not all about talking; great leaders know how to listen as much as talk. Teach them how to listen to others and recognize what is driving what people say. This builds great emotional intelligence.
  4. Be a team player – teamwork helps them get along with others and to understand the importance of striving for common goals. Learning how to sacrifice your own success for the greater good is a vital part of leading. Simply playing a team sport won’t cut it. There are plenty of kids who play a team sport but have no idea of how to be a team player. Relating to the other kids, cooperating with them and reinforcing/living team rules and behaviors are the keys. Show them ways they can help make a teammate better and then praise them when they do.
  5. Build character – it is never too early to build character based on trust, respect and honesty. Insist on each of these and importantly positively recognize each of these actions when you see them. Another good saying is ‘You get what you settle for’ – meaning if you let your child disrespect you or be dishonest, you cant complain when they are. Tell stories about honest people and relate ‘respect’ to simple actions they can take – like having good manners, complimenting people and showing appreciation.
  6. Show them how to succeed through failure  – let them try new things and undertake new projects even if you know they aren’t really suited to them. In fact let them try things you know they can’t do. Some will turn out well, some won’t. The key is not talking about how things failed or saying I told you so, but discussing what they learnt and what they can do better next time. If you get upset at their failures they will be reluctant to get back on the horse. If you react ok, then they will eventually be ok. Let them say ‘I can’t do it’, but encourage them to add on the word ‘yet’.

We need to redefine what leadership is for kids. Unfortunately leadership has become about changing the world or triumphing over great odds. The average kid can’t do these things so why do we talk about leadership in this fashion? Leadership for kids is about making a positive difference in one other persons life. It may be a kind word to a friend when they are down, standing up for a mate, taking time to help someone with homework or to kick the ball better. It is even showing genuine joy for another persons success.

As they grow it will be these qualities that will make them naturally gravitate to formal leadership positions.

By breaking it down like this, kids are often no longer afraid of being called a leader or striving to be one.

About the author:

Nathan Burke started his career as a schoolteacher before the demands of elite level football with St Kilda F.C. took over. Following a successful corporate career he founded Nathan Burke Consulting – a Melbourne based firm that offers High Performance Training and Coaching solutions to corporates, schools and sports teams.

Nathan is also the Head Coach of the Western Bulldogs AFLW team.