Developing Leadership Qualities in Kids

Thanks for tuning in to Let’s Grow Leader’s Saturday Series for developing leadership in kids. On Monday we return to our regular leadership fare.

Today is a guest post from Curtis Fletcher. 

Developing Leadership Qualities in Kids

Imagine almost any adult gathering you’ve ever attended. It could be a workshop, dinner party, political rally, anything. There are always those first few moments when the people who didn’t previously know each other begin to mingle and meet.

If you listen carefully to those conversations they contain some interesting probing questions about profession, education, hobbies maybe, but the answers are even more telling. The answers include job title, degree, or length of experience and credentials.

It’s almost comical how much adult conversation, especially introductory conversation, is spent in determining ranking. Who is going to play the dominant role and who is going to play the more subservient role? In short, who is the leader?

As adults we have all kinds of cues from which to draw hierarchy and we do it almost unconsciously all of the time. By way of example? How many are already wondering about my qualifications to be writing about developing leadership in children?

Because your typical kid doesn’t have this vast array of information to draw from leadership roles in childhood tend to derive from much more primitive characteristics: biggest, strongest, loudest, etc. You could even make an argument for parental social status rich kids win out over poor kids kind of thing.

As a result, unless we’re content to leave the development of future leaders to the whims of natural selection alone or some modern approximation of monarchical inheritance, we need to employ some adult wisdom in helping kids try on leadership to see if it fits.

This approach assumes that there is adult involvement in helping guide kids through the a leadership experience and so, as that adult, you need to help your young charge by taking four actions in regards to their leadership:

1. You have to Endorse it.

Adult endorsement helps kids overcome those tendencies towards natural selective processes. In fact, the less obvious the leader from the stand point of those bigger, stronger, faster characteristics the more important the adult endorsement.

Remember the objective here is not to see who naturally takes over, though there are times for that too, the objective is to help kids develop their own leadership skills, qualities and abilities.

2. You have to Define it.

Simply stated here you can’t just tell a kid to ”lead” you have to give them some boundaries. “You’re in charge for this project, or this class period, or this practice.” By establishing this kind of boundary you help the kid understand where their leadership begins and ends.

Just because you put a student in charge of the math circle doesn’t mean you expect them to be a kickball captain at recess but THEY may not know that unless you define the boundaries.

3. You have to Goal it.

As adults we hate being given charge of something for which there is no well-defined desired outcome. How much more so for a kid trying to sort out what it means to lead?

“You’re in charge Timmy, I need you to be sure everything is under control.” Yikes, I’d hate THAT as an adult!

“Suzy, I’m putting you in charge. We need to have everyone in their seat, tables cleaned up, at ten o`clock.” This is not only clear, but it is achievable. Even the language in this second example is better. Using the word “we” reinforces the endorsement of the leader.

4. You have to Evaluate it.

Feedback after the fact is important and a significant part of that evaluation should be living by the results of the choices the young leader has made. Let them know how they did but also let them see where their decisions lead.

We often think of natural selection as nature’s way of giving certain people an edge. If you want to give your young leaders their own edge in learning how to lead you can do so by making sure you Endorse, Define, Goal, and Evaluate their leadership experiences.

About the author:

Curtis Fletcher has been involved in teaching, coaching, and mentoring kids of all ages for most of his life, whether that was as a high school student corralling the younger kids at family camp, teaching in the classroom, or as a high school football coach.
Curtis currently leads as a Senior Manager with Hitachi Consulting helping corporations understand how to create excellent customer experience.

His blog is Unforced Perspectives

Note: Curtis is also great at developing grown-ups as well.

One Dip or Two? Lesson's From Seth Godin's The Dip

How do you know when to muscle through and when it’s time to stop? This concept, coined by Seth Godin as “the dip” is vital to understand in our own work and in our leadership of others.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”
~ Thomas Edison

Every now and then a young leader will approach me for my story, “what did you do to get here?”

When I share a bit about the less than glamorous journey, including commuting to the Bronx from Baltimore for months on an almost daily basis during my stint as a single mom or the travel I am doing now to small towns across the country where you can be sure to find a Waffle House, I get the same reaction. “Oh.”

Seth Godin writes well on this subject in The Dip. He describes the value of slogging through the tough times on the right pursuits, and knowing when to quit the wrong ones. As Kenny Rogers would say, knowing when to “fold em,” frees up time to work on what will make you great. He compares 3 scenarios and how to know them when you see them.

Godin’s Big 3

  • Dips (hard times you need to get through to learn, grow, and achieve)
  • Cul-de-sacs (dead ends, where more hard work and slogging is unlikely to help)
  • Cliffs (dangerous pursuits leading to disaster)

I am very familiar with the dip. I am currently in the deep throws of at least 2 or 3 big dip servings, and am keeping a keen eye out for some early signs of culdesac.

It is vital to pay attention to where you invest your time. His concept of quitting with integrity is important.

However, I disagree with his premise that “being the best in the world” is always a useful objective, and a reasonable criteria to judge quit worthiness.

Lots of important contributions are made from folks who are great, but not necessarily “the best.” If we have too much quitting going on, the world will lose out.

He uses the analogy of the Boston Marathon, and how most quitters, quit in the middle of the race, during the “Dip.” True. I’ve run it, and the middle is tough, and it feels great to get through it.

What I think he is overlooking is that just qualifying for the Boston marathon is a huge deal for many runners, a great goal and a fun achievement. Lots of regular folks have big fun and become stronger working toward this goal.

They have already pushed through a few dips. Most will not be the best in the world, and it doesn’t matter. There is value in journeys that do not end in greatness.

Godin shares, “the problem with infinity is that there’s too much of it.” That’s the fun part.

We have so many choices and so many chances. For ourselves, and to offer as options for those we lead.

One Dip or Two? Lesson’s From Seth Godin’s The Dip

How do you know when to muscle through and when it’s time to stop? This concept, coined by Seth Godin as “the dip” is vital to understand in our own work and in our leadership of others.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”
~ Thomas Edison

Every now and then a young leader will approach me for my story, “what did you do to get here?”

When I share a bit about the less than glamorous journey, including commuting to the Bronx from Baltimore for months on an almost daily basis during my stint as a single mom or the travel I am doing now to small towns across the country where you can be sure to find a Waffle House, I get the same reaction. “Oh.”

Seth Godin writes well on this subject in The Dip. He describes the value of slogging through the tough times on the right pursuits, and knowing when to quit the wrong ones. As Kenny Rogers would say, knowing when to “fold em,” frees up time to work on what will make you great. He compares 3 scenarios and how to know them when you see them.

Godin’s Big 3

  • Dips (hard times you need to get through to learn, grow, and achieve)
  • Cul-de-sacs (dead ends, where more hard work and slogging is unlikely to help)
  • Cliffs (dangerous pursuits leading to disaster)

I am very familiar with the dip. I am currently in the deep throws of at least 2 or 3 big dip servings, and am keeping a keen eye out for some early signs of culdesac.

It is vital to pay attention to where you invest your time. His concept of quitting with integrity is important.

However, I disagree with his premise that “being the best in the world” is always a useful objective, and a reasonable criteria to judge quit worthiness.

Lots of important contributions are made from folks who are great, but not necessarily “the best.” If we have too much quitting going on, the world will lose out.

He uses the analogy of the Boston Marathon, and how most quitters, quit in the middle of the race, during the “Dip.” True. I’ve run it, and the middle is tough, and it feels great to get through it.

What I think he is overlooking is that just qualifying for the Boston marathon is a huge deal for many runners, a great goal and a fun achievement. Lots of regular folks have big fun and become stronger working toward this goal.

They have already pushed through a few dips. Most will not be the best in the world, and it doesn’t matter. There is value in journeys that do not end in greatness.

Godin shares, “the problem with infinity is that there’s too much of it.” That’s the fun part.

We have so many choices and so many chances. For ourselves, and to offer as options for those we lead.