How to Raise a Great Leader!
Great leaders were once children too. Are you raising a great leader? How do you know?
For the past six months I have been working on a book called, Shine: How Great Leaders Think Differently. The research and writing has been very rewarding but chatting with others has provided the most insight for my work. You see, when others are asked about great leaders they always point to a historical figure. Sometimes, they will mention a current, high profile individual, and perhaps a former boss, but rarely do they mention people they interact with every day. And, they certainly NEVER mention children. In fact, they never make an association that their great leader was once a child either. Nope, they jump right to adulthood citing a significant event that demonstrates an example of their great leadership. I am not saying that is bad just a bit eye opening for me and something that got me thinking. Great leaders did not just appear they were influenced along the way by someone or something. Perhaps family members, leaders in the community, institutions or events. For this article I will focus on parents and ask, are you raising great leaders? How do you know?
As a professional I have many roles: professor, entrepreneur, coach and consultant. However, in this phase of my life I must say my most important role is mom. As a parent, I can tell you raising children is not for the faint of heart especially when you raise them nearly two decades apart. In my case I have three children, two adult daughters who have children of their own, and a teenage son, who I swear grows another inch every day as evidenced by the high-water pants hanging in his closet and the shoes stacked up in the corner that he can no longer wear.
This time around I am raising an only child, which is so different than when I was raising my girls together. As a mom in the late 80s, I was young. Admittedly, I was growing up with my daughters, so I really did not look at life the way I do today. With my son, I am educated with years of personal and professional experience under my belt, so life is very different at this point. This time around I find myself constantly seeking out ways to be a better mom while also working harder to find opportunities for my son in hopes that he will have many options available to explore in life.
Through my quest to be better and more knowledgeable I found an interesting book called Do the Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris. In reading the book I began to wonder if the opportunities I was seeking out for my son were the right ones. The realization I came to was no.
As a mom, I was reluctant to let my son do anything. Some would call it overprotective, my husband would call it smothering. I also thought my son was not capable of doing things like washing clothes, cooking or cleaning at the age of nine or ten, which drove my husband crazy. Although I relented and let my husband work with our son on his quest to raise a man biting my tongue the whole way, I can happily report today our son does indeed do laundry, cook for the family once a week and help with chores. And, he has been doing it for years now. I share this information to illustrate that when you expect your children to do things they will rise to the occasion. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually, yes! I mention this because a great leader understands what it is to do hard things. They do not expect you to do anything they would not do themselves. As a result, a great leader possesses attributes that make them a cut above the rest.
As you read in my previous article, “Great Leaders Know They Must Do Four Things Well to Cultivate a Culture of Respect within the Organization,” great leaders: (1) speak with clarity, (2) are warm and approachable, (3) influence others, and (4) are authentic. Check out the article for details about each of the four attributes. I bring up the article because it shares in depth what MAKES a leader GREAT. However, two important points not shared in the article that need to be addressed, and the reason I am writing today, is the fact that great leaders are not only awesome when they work for organizations but tend to be amazing people outside of work too. Also, more than just historical figures can be great, every day people can be great too. In fact, I believe we are surrounded by greatness every day but sometimes we don’t recognize it outside of a work setting. We chalk it up to kindness or something else and never think twice about it.
So how do we help our children grow up to be great leaders in life? Individuals who speak with clarity, are warm and approachable, influence others and are authentic?
To help our children grow up to be the leaders we know they can be we need to encourage them. Don’t you like to be encouraged when you tackle a new initiative at work or take on a new project at home. How about going back to school or making a career change? We all like reassurance when we tackle things not previously tried. No one wants to hear their idea is horrible or that dream we have had for years is terrible. No, we want to know that we can do it and have the support of those around us even if we fail. And don’t forget there is success in failure too. Of course, we can tackle that in another blog article, my point is kids of every age like to be encouraged.
Encouragement is an easy task that we as parents often forget. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in correcting actions or giving advice that we end up pointing out the negative things our kids do instead of encouraging them to take risks to try new things. I don’t know about you, but I am certainly guilty of it. The funny thing is we all know words can make or break a person. A kind word can be just enough to give a person confidence to move forward on something they have been afraid to do for a long time. A negative word can paralyze that same person with fear preventing them from taking even one step forward on that objective.
If we want our children to understand what a great leader does then we need to start by showing them. Great leaders encourage those around them so let’s do the same for our children.
Great leaders have an unquenchable thirst for learning. If you look up the most successful individuals in any industry you will discover quickly they tend to be voracious readers and doers. How many times have you received an email stating an individual has posted their professional reading list or top ten list of books you should read? Admittedly, I get those a lot. I do my best to read several books from the various lists, so I can stay current on the most relevant topics, but also to gain diversity in thought and perspective.
We need to teach our children to acquire a love for learning. The other day, an article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. A 24-year-old entrepreneur named Max Deutsch decided to challenge himself to a series of monthly tasks that were quite lofty and illogical. According to the article he memorized a deck of shuffled cards, sketched a near perfect self portrait of himself, solved a Rubik’s cube in 17 second, and developed perfect musical pitch. He also learned enough Hebrew to debate a tech topic for 30 minutes, and landed a standing back flip. However, his greatest achievement was playing a world class chess champion and nearly beating him. What I enjoyed about the article is Max was not portrayed as a genius. He is not, he is just a person with a life-long desire to learn. In fact, he knew he would fail at many of the things on the list, but he recognized even failure had its lessons. In the case of chess, he learned from failing against others and then applied what he saw others do which helped him nearly beat the world champion. Reference for the article included at the end of this article for your convenience.
Great leaders know there is success in failure too. They know you learn from winning and losing but the goal is not to give up. The goal is to continue to seek out solutions and apply them. We need to teach our children to do the same.
I think this goes back to the book, Do the Hard Things, I mentioned previously. Great leaders do not back down from challenges. Instead they tackle them head on. They know if they don’t have the answer the smart people they have surrounded themselves with will. We need to help our children acquire the problem-solving skills necessary to become leaders who know to hire smart people. Our children will only become great leaders if they are challenged to take on difficult tasks without our interference. We must teach them to do the hard things and we must expect more of them. Yes, I love when my son does his chores. Praise the Lord when I don’t have to hound him to do them. However, I am more impressed when my son decides on his own that spending two hours learning a foreign language might be better than playing a video game for the same amount of time. Or, when he talks about writing a book and investigates on his own the steps needed to move forward on the process rather than sitting in front of the television watching shows that aren’t teaching him anything more than to be a couch potato.
To make great leaders we lovingly need to “not let them off the hook” with just simple tasks, we should expect more of them, so they can expect more of themselves. Give them a difficult task and see how they do. Remember, there is success even in failure. I bet you will be surprised by what your child can accomplish if given the opportunity. I know I was surprised.
CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES
A great leader knows every choice has a consequence, good or bad. We need to continue to teach our children the same principle. Easier said then done I know but worth the effort. As a mother this one is so hard for me. I want my son to make good choices all the time, but reality is he does not. In fact, thanks to technology and all the opportunities for distraction my son struggles just like many others. The best thing we can do is continue to communicate that choices have consequences. If you post that picture on a social media site it NEVER goes away. I allow him to make the choice, but I ask lots of questions to help him think through a potential consequence. If you post that picture of you being silly wearing that shirt with inappropriate language do you think that is setting a good example or a bad one? What if the head of the program you are applying to sees it, do you think he or she will know that you are being silly and let you into the school? How do you think others perceive you based on only that picture? Ultimately, I let him decide and truth be told, I cringe sometimes in doing so but he will never learn unless he faces the consequences, good and bad.
FAITHFUL IN THE SMALL THINGS
Finally, a great leader is diligent even in the small things. A great leader knows success does not happen overnight. You must work at it and sometimes it takes years before that work pays off. A great leader continues to tackle the small things day by day until the objective is achieved. The process is not rushed. For instance, a great leader with an organization experiencing a culture issue knows change is necessary but recognizes the problem did not happen in a day. No, to transform the culture of the organization takes thought and action. Actions that little by little and day by day will cause the shift. The same goes for our children. We need to teach them that the race is long not short. They need to learn to be proactive and patient at the same time. They need to understand that giving up and the word “can’t” are not options. Again, easier said then done, but necessary to do.
In summary, we can teach our children to become great leaders if we guide them along the way by encouraging them to be the best they can be and helping them acquire a love for learning. We can expect more of them and help them expect more of themselves. We can teach them to make good decisions by trusting their choices no matter if they are wrong or right because we know there is success in failure too. Lastly, we can teach them about doing small things to get to the big stuff. The race is long, but the rewards are great!
What are you doing to raise a great leader? I know the readers of this article would love to know too!
As always, cheering for you!
Cohen, B. (2017, November 18). An unlikely chess match tests limits of self-improvement. The Wall Street Journal, pp. A1, A10.
Dr. Jeannine Bennett is the founder and CEO for Vision to Purpose, an organization dedicated to helping individuals and businesses succeed through the offering of tailored career, life and business solutions. You can learn more about Dr. Bennett and Vision to Purpose by visiting www.vision2purpose.com.