Updated: May 19, 2020
"The most important work that you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home." (Harold B Lee)
Are leaders born? Yup! Some people simply have natural God-given talents, but MOST leaders are not born - they are made (well, I guess they are born, just not born leaders).
And how are they made? By incredible parents who intentionally use their influence to make profound impacts on their kids. Of course, there are lots of ways that leaders are made, but I contend that the very best environment for developing strong leaders is the home.
For the last couple of weeks I've been preparing a message for an upcoming parent event. These parents have raised the question, "How can we raise strong leaders?" and I hope to provide to them some answers.
In short, there are four major leadership traits that can be developed in the home, and even at very early ages. These leadership traits are tried and tested. You'll find them in almost every book on leadership, you'll notice them in the excellent leaders you've worked with, and they continue to be touted on stages across the world. While these traits can be developed at any time, it's best to start early. It's like investing. The more money you put in early in your life, the greater number of times the money can compound - leaving you with a nice retirement. Comparatively, the more we "invest" into these traits in our kids, the more they will compound throughout their lives - leaving them with a nice chance for great success as a leader.
Here they are: CHARACTER, CONFIDENCE, CONNECTION, COLLABORATION
If you wonder how important character is to leadership, simply turn your TV on to any nightly new station and just watch. I can almost guarantee that there will be some story about some leader who has done something in violation to character. I believe strong character is build upon unshaken integrity, courage to do what is right when it is right, empathy to truly understand how it is in the other person's shoes, and the willingness to accept full responsibility. Here are some strategies to build great character in the home:
1. Create a table topics jar (place a bunch of character questions into a jar, pull one out each dinner).
2. Let them order at a restaurant.
3. Let them check your stuff out at the grocery store.
4. Get them opportunities to speak in front of others.
5. Have them perform in a musical concert.
6. Ask them what their values are. Encourage them to stand up for them.
7. Sing Christmas Carols at a nursing home.
8. Take a tour through the skyways of Minneapolis.
9. Learn a different language.
10. Travel with them to other countries.
11. Visit other churches, including a mosque.
12. Play games in a senior center.
13. Take them to a farm.
14. Visit the blind school.
15. Tour the Amish villages.
16. Create a chore chart. Apply consequences.
According to The Self-Esteem Book, 85% of our society struggles with confidence - even many successful leaders. What does this mean? It means we need to do all we can as parents to build true confidence in our kids. We do this by encouraging them to take risks, by identifying and highlighting their strengths, and by helping them positively grow through failure. Here's a few practical strategies:
1. Give them an allowance (we use $1 per age, the kid keeps ½, 10% to charity and the rest to savings).
2. Allow them to choose between two outfits.
3. Have them decided which vegetable to have for dinner.
4. Allow them to decide which movie to watch for movie night or which afternoon activity to do.
5. Share your mistakes (but avoid the drugs, alcohol and sex).
6. Help them create a pro/con list for tough decisions (ex. Girl scouts or swim practice).
7. Ask them to plan out a family night - making all the decisions for the family.
8. Read to them stories of failure.
9. Priority intercept (stop and acknowledge) every time you see a success.
My biggest struggle as a new leader was learning how to connect with people. I had thought that if I knew enough, if I was well-organized, and if I had an achievable plan, people would just follow me. Boy was I wrong. There's a saying that goes, "He who thinks he leads but has not followers is only taking a walk." Trust me, I took a lot of walks. Helping our kids make strong connections is critical. There are a lot of ways to do this, but if you are looking for a place to start begin with listening, the "common cold" of leadership. Teach them to listen well, to ask questions, to rephrase statements and to remove distractions (yup, I'm talking about those 3"x 5" devices attached to their hands). Here's some specific strategies:
1. Pay them to read broccoli (good for your brain) books.
2. Do monthly one on one interviews with each kid.
3. Read stories to your kid and ask them questions about the story.
4. Have you kid fix a meal with you reading the directions.
5. Have a conversation with the stuff you kids are interested in
6. Play the telephone game
7. Play "spot the change" where you read a story and reread while adding or taking parts out
8. Play charades
I often teach the Lone Ranger myth, a myth upheld by many leaders. This is the myth that one man or one woman can do it all. That is just not true. In fact, John Maxwell asserts, "Nothing of significance has ever occurred by one person acting alone." For us to contribute significance, we must learn to work together and there is no better time than in our youth. Strive to instill the importance of communication, inclusion, patience, negotiation, and sacrifice. If you'd like to encourage this in your kids, here are some suggestions:
1. Plan a family vacation, put one kid in charge of leading the family.
2. Have a kid run a Family Home Evening
3. Play board games as a family
4. Get them involved in sports or activities with teams
5. Occasionally let them negotiate rather than saying a direct yes or no
6. Have a Sunday family planning meeting to coordinate schedules
Of course, all of this is garbage if you are not modeling strong leadership. Go back through these points and see how well you are doing. Are there some places where you could be providing a better example? I'm sure we all could improve in one or more of these leadership traits. My challenge is to start growing more now!