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Creating Leaders

By Beth Suitor, Director of Strategy and Innovation


We want our children to be leaders. Of course, they also need to know how to follow and collaborate well with others, but we all desire that our children will be able to find their voices and use them to inspire others.  

Leadership is a skill that can be taught and fostered. Due to the changing nature of the world in which we are living, I believe that the demand for leaders with high IQ, EQ, and integrity will continue to grow. When schools and families share a commitment to foster leadership skills, our children soar.

I was impressed with an article that Forbes published a few years ago entitled 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. Author Kathy Caprino interviewed leadership expert Dr. Tim Elmore about behaviors that obstruct our children from fully benefitting not only themselves as leaders, but also the world’s enterprises. I wanted to share Elmore’s reflections with you:

1.    We don’t let our children experience risk.

Elmore asserts that our “’safety first’ preoccupation” has prevented our children from understanding risk and learning from mistakes. Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice of doing one thing each day that scares us may encourage both children and parents! 

2.    We rescue too quickly.

Our ultimate job as parents is to prepare our children to succeed independently, without us. As difficult as it can be, parents must empower their children to solve their own problems. Preventing them from feeling pain now will create more later. I always encourage parents to coach more and coddle less. Elmore warns that rescuing too quickly “disables our kids from becoming competent adults.”

3.    We rave too easily.

For many years, we have heard about overpraising, which can be devastating for our children. As Elmore explains, “When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate, and lie to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.”

4.    We let guilt get in the way of leading well.

Good parenting is not giving our children everything they want. It is helping our children develop intrinsic motivation instead of external motivation, particularly as a result of material rewards. As Dr. Maria Montessori observed a century ago, when children get everything they want and act to please someone other themselves, they fail to develop the courage to succeed when they are on their own.

5.    We don’t share our past mistakes.

Everyone learns better from a story than from instructions. As our children struggle with the challenges that life presents, from passing chemistry to breaking up with a girlfriend to not making the lacrosse team, they will benefit immensely from our reflection on a time when we faced a similar challenge. Talking about what went well and what we would do differently next time will help our children avoid repeating our mistakes.  

6.    We mistake intelligence, giftedness, and influence for maturity.

Just as a student’s 18th birthday does not magically turn her into an adult, neither does her intelligence or talent. Elmore illustrates this point by showing how very talented child stars ruin their lives. However, I would argue that this extends to all children. As parents, we can easily fall into the trap of giving our children opportunities that they are not ready enough to handle. Although it is legal for teenagers to have a Facebook account when they are 13, that does not mean they have the physiological brain development that supports their unsupervised use of the technology. Grant children independence that sets them up for success, not failure.

7.    We don’t practice what we preach.

From nearly two decades working with children and their families, I can attest that this is the single most important of Elmore’s list. Our children will take far more from watching how we conduct ourselves than from what we say. The only reason I remember my father’s quip of “anything worth doing is worth doing right” is because I watched him live this every day, whether it was washing his car or giving a customer an honest price. As Elmore notes, “Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will … do the same.”

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