I want my children to grow up to be leaders. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily wish for them to be CEOs, or heads of state, or be in charge of large groups of people. But that’s not my definition of a leader. A leader is someone who obeys the calling God has for their lives. A person who isn’t swayed by popular opinion or the whims of the world. Leaders are not made by their title or position, but by their actions and their heart.
A leader leads and influences others by the way they live life and love others.
As a parent, you have the great honor of being able to help raise a future leader.
Here are five ways my husband and I parent our five sons to help build leadership qualities in them.
1. Let Them Fail
If you aren’t occasionally failing, you aren’t attempting to try new things. Many adults are ashamed of failing, but we never should be. Failing means we are trying, we are living, and we are learning. I want my boys to understand failure is the mark of a strong person who takes risks. Without failure, a future leader will never develop perseverance.
2. Praise Their Effort
We all want our kids to have a solid sense of self-esteem, and it can be tempting to bolster their egos by letting them know how proud we are of everything they do. But constantly praising a bigger kid like he just won a Nobel Peace Prize when he only carried his socks to the hamper doesn’t serve him well; it will dilute the impact of your praise, and it can also reduce their motivation if they start to believe they are always amazing. Leaders are intrinsically motivated, not motivated by praise of the world.
3. Let Them Be Disappointed
Of course children need to trust their parents for a feeling of safety and constancy. That doesn’t mean that we need to be all things to them at all times. It’s okay if they are disappointed they can’t join their friends for an afternoon movie, or you can’t play a game with them right now, or they can’t have the toy all of their friends want. Saying “no” is a part of parenting; learning how to handle minor letdowns will give them the skills to handle life’s bigger disappointments with maturity.
4. Let Them Do Their Own Work
We’ve all heard the stories of parents contacting their college-aged students’ professors to ask why they didn’t get a 4.0. Of course that impulse comes from a place of love and concern, but at some point those “children” need to stand on their own two feet. I start young with my boys; for example, I don’t assist with projects unless they need something only an adult can do. On the wall in the classroom? It’s obvious that my boys’ projects are actually made by a child, not his parents.
5. Teach Them To Lead With Love
Being a leader doesn’t mean you get to boss around your friends on the ball field, at school or out in the world. Real leaders influence others because of their love. Jesus modeled servant leadership to his disciples because real leadership, the kind that changes hearts and minds, always leads with love.