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A while back I decided I wanted to teach my children leadership. As I thought about this challenge and how to go about it, I reviewed what resources I’d seen on the subject.

When home schooling our children for a time, I had not seen any sufficient home school curriculum on this subject. We’d been to home school conventions and bought much material to teach our children, but I did not recall a specific program on leadership.

Public school touched on it only tangentially. Although Boy Scouts was available for my son, I wanted my daughter to learn and practice leadership skills too. I had many questions. How early was too early? It is such a big subject. What to teach? How to provide practice opportunities and feedback?

I spoke to my dad,asking how they did it with us kids. “Mostly example” was his reply. That’s great, but it doesn’t lend itself to repeatability. I wanted to articulate a process to do this that could be repeated by others too, not just by me.

I remember a television commercial from long ago in the USA that said “We don’t make any of these products, we make them better.” To me, leadership is like that. It is not used alone, but rather is a means to an end, making many other human endeavors better when done well.

We’ve probably all noticed that some people do better at some skills than others, and observers may say they were born with that skill. This is an age old argument with leadership too. Indeed, each of us are endowed with gifts or strengths that impact our degree of efficiency and effectiveness, but skills can be learned. Leadership is a skill, albeit complex, and it too can be learned. Most parents know how to ride a bicycle, so they can teach their child how to ride a bicycle too. However, not all parents have been taught or have developed effective leadership skill. Even those who have may not have an easily articulated process for teaching their posterity or other youth in their sphere of influence. Like many sports fans do not see the thousands of hours of practice by professional athletes, only seeing the crucial performance in public, so most followers of leaders do not typically see the thousands of hours spent by effective leaders in preparation for the crucial public moments.

So I’m starting this iteration with a five-year-old, and an eight year old. We’ve been through this before with seven older children, but we did it all ad-hoc and by example alone. Sometimes we forgot we were teaching anything at all. Life can be like that sometimes. This time, I’m aiming for some repeatable processes.

My daughter already demonstrates strong persuasive powers as she negotiates for the things that she wants. Her persistence seems beyond what most adults demonstrate even in professional sales. Interestingly, she has to want something to engage her substantial abilities to persuade. When she doesn’t want something the behavioral contrast is stark.

My son observes intently and then tries it himself. It’s amazing to watch little humans engage in such complex behaviors.

So my goal is to try to teach leadership skills to my children. One obstacle in reaching this goal is that there is not a lot of existing guidance about teaching leadership to children. I was surprised that given all that’s written about leadership there wasn’t much on teaching it to children that I was able to find.

Another obstacle is that most of my own leadership expertise is tacit knowledge (all in my head) and is so automatic it can be difficult to articulate so it can be codified (written down). I found in my professional life that teaching someone direct supervision was much easier than teaching them how to train other leaders in an indirect supervision role. So I’m trying to pick apart the lessons I found in my own leadership journey and articulate them in a way that is teachable and easily learned and practiced.

The hand-me-down guidance from parents and grand parents is primarily “set the example.” And I agree, example is tremendously important in the lives of children. And yet, I want a little more structure in this process to give them the best chance of gaining these important skills.

Although I could have focused only on my own children, I felt it was important to add to the global conversation. So I’ll add what I learn along the way. I’m open to input from others who may have already figured parts of this out. My goal is to get this information into the global community so others don’t have as hard a time at it.

During my life I’ve been blessed by and seen so many inspiring examples of caring adults influencing children for good. Sports coaches, teachers, martial arts instructors, Boy Scout leaders, Girl Scout leaders, and interested parties. Some were paid, some were volunteers. What seems common about all of these examples is how much they cared. When I think of a handful of people that really stand out in memory that made a difference in my life, each of them saw in me more than I was at the moment. Each of them intensely wanted to help me do my best, and grow my capacity. They projected higher expectations for me than I had of myself then. They were genuinely pleased when I lived up to their expectations. This caring seems easy as a parent, to see the potential in your own child. But what of those without a biological parent in their lives? Hopefully this effort can help those with different circumstances too.

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KW Lanham


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