We all want our children to become leaders.
Whether they spend the bulk of their days in the mailroom or the corner office, we want our children to grow to be courageous, passionate, and authentic. We want their actions to inspire other people to be their best, to get more out of life than they ever thought possible.
As parents and caretakers of children, their path to leadership is in our hands.
We can model and teach the skills that will equip them to lead themselves and others in this hyper-competitive world, or we can allow them to fall victim to the kind of thinking that makes them slaves to the status quo.
It’s a big responsibility—but when isn’t being a parent a massive responsibility?
The beauty of building children into leaders is that it’s the little things we do every day that mold them into the people they’ll become.
Focus on the eight actions below, and you’ll build leadership in your children andyourself.
Model emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is that “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible; it affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.
Children learn emotional intelligence from their parents, plain and simple. As your children watch you every day, they absorb your behavior like a sponge. Children are particularly attuned to your awareness of emotions, the behavior you demonstrate in response to strong emotions, and how you react and respond to their emotions.
EQ is one of the biggest drivers of success in leadership positions. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that EQ is responsible for 58% of a leader’s job performance. Likewise, 90% of top-performing leaders have high EQs.
Most people do very little to develop their EQ growing up. Just 36% of the people we tested are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen. Children who develop a high level of EQ carry these skills into adulthood, and this gives them a leg up in leadership and in life.
Don’t obsess about achievement. Parents get sucked into obsessing about achievement because they believe that this will make their children into high-achievers. Instead, fixating on achievement creates all sorts of problems for kids. This is especially true when it comes to leadership, where focusing on individual achievement gives kids the wrong idea about how work gets done.
Simply put, the best leaders surround themselves with great people because they know they can’t do it alone. Achievement-obsessed children are so focused on awards and outcomes that they never fully understand this. All they can see is the player who’s handed the MVP trophy and the celebrity CEO who makes the news—they assume it’s all about the individual. It’s a rude awakening once they discover how real life works.
Don’t praise too much. Children need praise to build a healthy sense of self-esteem. Unfortunately, piling on the praise doesn’t give them extra self-esteem. Children need to believe in themselves and to develop the self-confidence required to become successful leaders, but if you gush every time they put pen to paper or kick a ball (the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality), this creates confusion and false confidence. Always show your children how proud you are of their passion and effort; just don’t paint them as superstars when you know it isn’t true.
Allow them to experience risk and failure. Success in business and in life is driven by risk. When parents go overboard protecting their children, they don’t allow them to take risks and reap the consequences. When you aren’t allowed to fail, you don’t understand risk. A leader can’t take appropriate risks until he or she knows the bitter taste of failure that comes with risking it all and coming up short.
The road to success is paved with failure. When you try to shield your children from failure in order to boost their self-esteem, they have trouble tolerating the failure required to succeed as a leader. Don’t rub their face in it either. Children need your support when they fail. They need to know you care. They need to know that you know how much failure stings. Your support allows them to embrace the intensity of the experience and to know that they’ll make it through it all right. That, right there, is solid character building for future leaders.
Tell them, “No.” Overindulging children is a surefire way to limit their development as leaders. To succeed as a leader, one must be able to delay gratification and work hard for things that are really important. Children need to develop this patience. They need to set goals and experience the joy that comes with working diligently towards them. Saying no to your children will disappoint them momentarily, but they’ll get over that. They’ll never get over being spoiled.
Let children solve their own problems. There’s a certain self-sufficiency that comes with being a leader. When you’re the one making the calls, you should also be the one who needs to stay behind and clean up the mess these create. When parents constantly solve their children’s problems for them, children never develop the critical ability to stand on their own two feet. Children who always have someone swooping in to rescue them and clean up their mess spend their whole lives waiting for this to happen. Leaders take action. They take charge. They’re responsible and accountable. Make certain your children are as well.
Walk your talk. Authentic leaders are transparent and forthcoming. They aren’t perfect, but they earn people’s respect by walking their talk. Your children can develop this quality naturally, but only if it’s something they see you demonstrate. To be authentic, you must be honest in all things, not just in what you say and do but also in who you are. When you walk your talk, your words and actions will align with who you claim to be. Your children will see this and aspire to do the same.
Show you’re human. No matter how indignant and defiant your children are at any moment, you’re still their hero and their model for the future. This can make you want to hide your past mistakes for fear that they’ll be enticed to repeat them. The opposite is true. When you don’t show any vulnerability, your children develop intense guilt about every failure because they believe that they’re the only ones to make such terrible mistakes.
To develop as leaders, children need to know that the people they look up to aren’t infallible. Leaders must be able to process their mistakes, learn from them, and move forward to be better people. Children can’t do this when they’re overcome by guilt. They need someone—a real, vulnerable person—to teach them how to process mistakes and to learn from them. When you show them how you’ve done this in the past, you’re doing just that.
Bringing It All Together
We can mold our children into leaders, but only if we work at it. Few things in life are as worth your time and effort as this.