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8 Ways To Nurture Leadership In Young Children

“Mommy, I’m not a leader.”

Why do you say that?

“Because John is the one that tells us what to do on the playground and we follow him. So that makes me a follower.”

Ugh. Tricky. I’m not impressed by John’s “leadership.” I want my son (and all young children) to see kindness, listening, understanding, and caring about other people as important leadership qualities.

We must stop trying to over-simplify leadership for our kids. Being picked to be “line leader” at school, Mother May I, Simon says… all involve telling. Children learn to do what mommy, daddy, and teachers say. Sure, we want kids who listen and follow directions. But even young children can learn servant leadership.

8 Ways to Nurture Leadership in Children Under 8

Start with lots of love and building self-esteem. Too many grown-ups with power mess things up because they’re still dealing with childhood muck. Be a role model, and know they’re always watching. Beyond that, here are a few deliberate approaches for building leadership in young children.

  1. Teach them to give – Involve them in volunteer activities and talk about the “why” as much as the “what.” Help them look for needs in everyday situations, and to consider how they can improve the scene. Help young children find joy in giving and call it leadership.
  2. Talk to them like grown-ups – Young children are smarter than they look. Talk about current events. An 8-year-old may not need to know all the political issues involved with healthcare. But in our house we’ve had some pretty good conversations about what’s going on and why. Get them started, and kids can ask some pretty good “whys.”
  3. Give them a say in some family decisions – Pick some decisions where you don’t need control. Invite your young children to brainstorm creative options. Encourage each family member to listen to one another’s viewpoints before deciding as a family.
  4. Nurture a love of reading – Read together and talk about the characters and relationships in the stories. For a list of great books to read with your young children click here.
  5. Bring them along and give them a role – Kid’s love to see mommy and daddy in action. My older son’s now 19, I’ve brought him along to all kinds of places. I’ve explained what I’m doing and why. I’ve given him “important roles.” I’ve enjoyed watching him apply the skills he’s learned in the arenas he’s now leading. See A Great Way to Teach Your Kids About Leadership.
  6. Admit when you screw up – Talk about your leadership mess-ups. Kid’s need to know that leaders aren’t perfect, and that mistakes are all part of their learning.
  7. Hang out with other leaders – So they can see leaders are regular people too. Dinner guests can be fun for the whole family.
  8. Teach them to craft and deliver a great prayer (or toast) at family gatherings – When he was younger, I would help my son prepare group gathering prayers. “Let’s talk about why we’re gathered and what people may want God to hear.” Now I just give my 8-year-old the whisper that he’s going to be “on” and I’m amazed at what he comes up with. If your family is not into prayers, it works for meaningful toasts too.
This is just a start… let’s work together and make a long list. Please share your comments, and pass along to other parents you know so they can offer their advice.
Filed Under:   Developing Leadership In Children
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is a leadership speaker, consultant, and MBA professor. She's a former Verizon Wireless executive with two decades of diverse cross-functional experience in sales, customer service and HR. Karin was named as a top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. She is author of, "Overcoming an Imperfect Boss: A Practical Guide to Building a Better Relationship With Your Boss." Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of a marathoner and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

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What People Are Saying

Alli Polin   |   23 December 2013   |   Reply

I also have an eight year old son. What I love is that he’s learned that it’s wonderful to do things for other people. He asked me if we could please make a donation to Feeding America last week because we talk about making donations and why helping others is important. Tonight, he chose a girly movie (I was not remotely interested in!) because he thought his sister would love it. We talk to him about how leadership is not always getting your way (like watching Pacific Rim seven days a week) but by doing what is best for the team (which apparently includes the occasional girly movie!)

Appreciate your wisdom, Karin!

letsgrowleaders   |   23 December 2013   |   Reply

Alli, That’s awesome. So agree, understanding that others needs are important and recognizing them without being told is such an important foundation. Thanks, as always, for your comments.

Jon Mertz   |   23 December 2013   |   Reply

Karin,

Great list of things to do and habits to embrace. Another one is to get one in your immediate community and make a difference. Helping another in some way will teach wonderful leadership skills now and in the future.

Thank you for all you do! Jon

letsgrowleaders   |   24 December 2013   |   Reply

Jon, Such an important add. Thank you. Yes, there is so much we can do right where we live.

Dave Gregory   |   23 December 2013   |   Reply

Karin – Thanks for posting these very important tips. As I was reading the article, I reflected on how fortunate I was to have parents who taught me servant leadership. I am sending your post to them. Happy Holidays. Thank you for the gift.

Dave Gregory

letsgrowleaders   |   24 December 2013   |   Reply

Dave, that’s awesome! I was raised by servant leaders too. We learn much by watching.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   23 December 2013   |   Reply

Karin- some posts are so good that they puzzle me what to add. A great golden set of directions to nurture young leaders. I would add also developing their senses to others and ,if possible, their sixth sense as well.
I have shared a new definition of leaders. They develop symbiosis. We need to show them that a tree and a fungus live together and share mutual benefits. It is not who is the tree or the fungus: it is both together. No week or strong people: it is both together. Each reinforce the other. We should nurture mutualism among kids.

I wish you Karin and all commenter and readers a happy Xmas and a splendid new year.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 December 2013   |   Reply

Ali, “nurture mutualism”. Just beautiful. What an important perspective. Love it. Thanks for expanding the thinking.

LaRae Quy   |   23 December 2013   |   Reply

What a wonderful reminder that being a parent is the greatest leadership any of us will ever have.

Love all of your points. Being a leader is about SO MUCH more than simply having followers.

Merry Christmas!

letsgrowleaders   |   24 December 2013   |   Reply

LaRae, Thank you… indeed. We leave an important leadership legacy in our children.