Do you remember being a teenager? The world is fresh and exciting with new experiences around every corner. It's a beautiful time. Yet, when asked if they'd like to go back to high school, most adults will say "no."
Because many adults have learned lessons as they grew up that have built their confidence and given them the ability to be a leader at their job, in their community, and within themselves. Not many people would willingly give up that knowledge, even if it does mean less responsibility.
What if you had learned those lessons while you were still young? What if someone, either a parent, a teacher, a counselor, or another adult had taught you those lessons when you were still a teen? If you had developed those skills early on, what would your life look like today?
When you work with children or have kids of your own, you have the opportunity to give them the gift of confidence and leadership early on.
Why Is Youth Leadership Important in Our Society?
Overplayed songs aside, children really are our future. When they are taught the skills and confidence to lead when they're still young, they will have easier, more successful, more productive lives later on. These individuals become valuable members of society and will someday be leading companies and non-profits and changing the world.
Benefits of Youth Leadership
Learning leadership skills is so beneficial to young adults and children. The benefits include:
- Building Self-Confidence - This helps them avoid peer pressure and make good decisions.
- Developing Problem-Solving Skills - They will face challenges throughout their lives. Problem solving skills will help them overcome those challenges easier.
- Developing Life Skills - They will learn good communication, responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for others.
- Learning to Work with Others - Learning to work as a team will serve them throughout their lives.
What Does Leadership Mean for Kids?
Often, when we hear the term "leader," our mind instantly goes to the hierarchical workplace structure that we are all too familiar with. When we look at leadership from that angle, it's difficult to imagine how leadership could play out for children or young adults.
In order to understand this, we need to look at the other characteristics and responsibilities of leadership. A leader is not merely someone who's in charge. In fact, we've probably all been in a situation where the person in charge is DEFINITELY NOT a leader.
So, what does it mean to be a leader?
Leaders take responsibility for themselves and anyone in their charge. Leaders communicate openly, honestly, and kindly with the people around them. They are respectful of others' opinions and are comfortable disagreeing when necessary. Leaders are creative and have a vision for a better future. They are also able to enlist people to that vision and inspire them to work towards a greater good. Leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work and also know when to delegate a task to someone else. They make decisions when necessary and are willing to be held accountable for those decisions. They are confident in their abilities and instill confidence in those around them. They maintain a positive attitude and motivate those around them to adopt the same.
Whether actually leading a team or just running their own lives, a true leader is much more than a manager... they are an inspiration to others. Whether you're a parent or you work with children, can you see the benefit to developing these skills early on in life?
How Do You Build Young Leaders?
You truly care about your children or the ones you work with, and you want to do everything in your power to give them the best chance at a successful future. Thankfully, there are a variety of ways that you can build young leaders.
Developing Youth Leadership Skills
Here are a few of the leadership skills you will need to teach children:
- Good Communication Skills - The ability to speak openly, honestly, and clearly will serve a young person throughout his or her life whether they take on an official leadership role or just serve as an example to others.
- Dreaming Big and Having a Vision - Giving children the freedom and encouragement to have big dreams will teach them to make the seemingly impossible possible.
- Resilience - When children are faced with setbacks, they should be given the tools to learn and improve from the situation.
- Perseverance - While children may need to take a few minutes or even days to regroup from a disappointment, learning not to give up will take them far.
- Teamwork - Unless your child plans to spend the rest of their life alone in a cabin in the woods, they will need to know how to work with other people.
- Conflict Resolution - Conflict happens in every facet of life. Knowing how to work through your conflicts with others, and how to manage conflicts between other people, will help from the occasional family or friend squabble to well into their career.
Practically every situation we encounter as adults was once faced in childhood. The emotions you experience, the interpersonal conflicts, the challenges, and the dreams may be on a different scale, yet they are still present. When you teach a child the skills and give them the tools they need to handle those challenges when they are young, they will carry that knowledge with them into a healthier, happier adulthood. It is never too early to start teaching leadership skills.
Tips for Raising Kids as Leaders
Leadership begins in the home. As a parent, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to instill these qualities in your child as they grow up. There are several ways to do this.
Be an Example
Your children will look to you for guidance in every situation. They are constantly watching your behavior and your attitude and will do anything to get your approval... including mirror your behavior. After all, if you're doing it, isn't that what you expect from them?
Become a shining example of the qualities that you want to see in your children. Do your best to behave in an appropriate manner, and when you do make a mistake (because we all do), own up to it, apologize, and use it as a teaching moment.
Foster Good Communication
Teach your child how to communicate effectively with others by explaining the 3 types of communication:
- Passive: Avoiding eye contact, refusing to speak up
- Aggressive: Speaking over people in an attempt to bowl them over
- Assertive: Being clear, making eye contact, and using a firm and not overbearing tone
Once they understand the different types of communication, teach them the importance of listening. They should understand that interrupting, speaking out of turn, and being focused on what they'll say next instead of the other person is disrespectful and will cause communications challenges throughout their lives.
The benefits of volunteering are so vast that it's difficult to sum them up. When you instill an attitude of service in your child, you will help them build empathy for their fellow humans (and for animals), teach them perspective, help them gain skills that they will use in the future, and build their self-confidence. Volunteering can be an excellent bonding experience for the whole family and will once again allow you to lead by example. Having service hours under their belt will also set your child up in a better position for college admissions.
Teach Conflict Resolution
Whether your child has siblings or just friends, conflict will come up at one point or another. While some believe that you should let children sort out their own issues, consider supervising the conversation, interjecting guidance on managing conflict when necessary. Once the children have experienced conflict resolution a few times, you may be able to sit back in the future and watch as they implement the tools you've given them.
Build Up Their Confidence
When a child is confident in their own abilities and comfortable in their own skin, when they truly believe that they are "enough," they will treat others better, make smarter choices, and lift those around them higher. Your child won't be perfect. It's important to give them positive feedback when they do things properly and helpful (gentle) correction when something needs to be improved upon. Children should never be berated or made to feel bad about themselves.
Leadership Development Activities for Kids and Teens
Whether you are a parent or work with children and young adults, there are a variety of exercises you can do to help them develop leadership qualities. These include:
- Giving Compliments: Have children work in groups of 2 or 3. Each group will chat for 1 minute during which time they will compliment each other on their positive traits. Once they've finished, discuss how it feels to hear nice things about themselves.
- Self-Assessment: This can be done with a group of children, or even one. Identify a series of quotes that represent the leadership qualities you'd like to focus on and have children or teens read the quotes and rate how they see themselves as exhibiting those characteristics.
- Problem Solving: Break the room into small groups of 3-4 individuals. Give them a task to work on with multiple problems to solve. Then have them take turns "leading" the problem-solving discussion.
There is an infinite number of activities that you can do to instill leadership skills in teens and children. Identify the specific characteristics you’d like to work on and then get creative. The sky is the limit.
What Is Youth Leadership Training, and Do These Programs Work?
Youth Leadership Training generally refers to experiential learning where teens or young adults spend 2-3 days immersed in a hands-on environment. Teens get enough lecturing in school and at home. This type of training strives to provide interactive experiences that teach teens the leadership qualities that will help them navigate their lives.
In these trainings, participants will focus on teamwork activities, practice good communication skills, learn how to persevere in difficult times, how to muster up the courage they need to succeed, and most importantly, to believe in themselves and their abilities. They will be pushed out of their comfort zones and learn how to face and conquer their fears.
When teens return to their personal lives, they are often more appreciative of their families, excited about the possibilities, and empowered to be the best possible version of themselves. Youth leadership training is a gift that you can give to the children in your life.
Parenting and teaching children are awesome responsibilities. You have the power to strengthen their character, teach them the skills they need to succeed, and shape their future for the better. Providing them with leadership training and the positive qualities of a successful leader will help them throughout their lives. They will be more empathetic, more confident, and more driven to make this world a better place to live in. Imagine the possibilities.