Leaders create communities and tribes and make us feel like we belong and make us feel like we matter. (Simon Sinek)
As parents, it falls upon us to nurture and cultivate leadership skills within our teenagers. The question that often arises is: how do we go about this? How can we guide our teens toward becoming leaders? The journey begins by first discerning the qualities that exemplify leadership, and then embracing the roles of both mentor and teacher to instill these skills in our teens. Leadership, you see, is not merely a title, but a way of thinking, acting, and communicating that transcends traditional definitions.
Simon Sinek, a renowned thought leader, succinctly captures the essence of leadership. He emphasizes the significance of selflessness, empathy, and the adeptness to navigate the currents of anxiety within a team. As we translate these principles to our teens, it’s evident that these traits hold profound relevance in their lives. In many ways, their journey towards leadership starts with internalizing these notions—learning to manage their own anxieties, fostering self-trust, and nurturing the self-assuredness that empowers them to lead effectively.
Yet, let’s pause for a moment and contemplate what leadership signifies for us as adults. How do we define it? This becomes the compass with which we steer our teens toward building their leadership capabilities. If we can not define leadership and the attributes a leader should have, how can we role model those behaviors and, more importantly, teach them to our teen.
As parents, the responsibility to teach the concept of leadership rests on our shoulders. We become the architects of understanding for our teenagers. So, what does leadership encompass? It’s a blend of vision, guidance, and collaboration. A leader envisions a path forward, fostering an environment of collaboration and mutual growth. This is a perspective we can share with our teens—an understanding that leadership is not about authority, but about steering a collective effort toward positive change. Leaders do not bully their friends or threaten to break long standing trusts to win an argument or have people do things their way. Leaders encourage personal growth, and that is what teens need to learn.
To aid our teens in constructing their leadership skills, it’s crucial that we embrace a holistic viewpoint. Leadership is found in the classroom, the community, extracurricular activities, and within oneself. By encouraging our teens to seek leadership opportunities in diverse contexts, we help them build versatile skills that will serve them well throughout their lifetime.
Communication forms the bedrock of leadership. This involves not just the ability to speak, but to truly listen. We must guide our teens to cultivate the art of active listening, to understand the needs, concerns, and aspirations of those they seek to lead. Additionally, articulating thoughts clearly and persuasively equips them to inspire and motivate others. To do this, teens need to spend time on understanding their own values, their own personal mission statement and goals. Then being able to articulate that information shows confidence in who they are and part of the skill set of a leader.
Empathy is a cornerstone of effective leadership. It involves stepping into another’s shoes, comprehending their perspective, and fostering a sense of belonging. We can foster empathy in our teens by encouraging them to engage in volunteer work or community service, experiences that broaden their horizons and teach them the value of empathy in leadership. Too often, we have our teens do community service for “the hours” and to meet graduation requirements. I challenge parents to stop and talk about the service to others and to understand what volunteering in the community means to those who depend on volunteers for help.
As parents, we play a pivotal role in nurturing self-confidence in our teens. This is the cornerstone upon which leadership is built. When teens trust their abilities and believe in themselves, they’re empowered to take charge, make decisions, and guide others. Encourage them to explore their interests, celebrate their achievements, and persist in the face of challenges. Create a space where your teen can talk to you about their insecurities or challenges and help them process a solution. Besides confidence you are building critical thinking skills, and grit to keep moving forward through the challenges.
Leadership entails the ability to navigate challenges, uncertainties, and conflicts. As parents, we can facilitate this by allowing our teens to make decisions, even if it means encountering failures. These experiences provide valuable lessons in resilience and problem-solving, essential components of leadership. Powerful learning opportunities exist in failure, and failures as a teen have low long-term risk and huge payoffs in learning and overcoming the failure.
In this journey, we find ourselves not just as parents but as mentors and guides. Our task is to offer wisdom, support, and a safe space for our teens to explore their potential. Our understanding of leadership paves the way for them to grow, to shape their aspirations, and to embark on a journey of self-discovery that culminates in effective and compassionate leadership.
Leadership is a blend of qualities that extend beyond the boundaries of age, occupation, or circumstance. It’s the capacity to inspire, to guide, and to create positive change. And as parents, we have the honor of being the person who ignites the flame of leadership within our teens, illuminating their path toward a future where they lead with purpose and impact.