Are you raising your children to be leaders? For years, my literal prayer has been that God bless my children to be leaders in their generation. At first, my wife pushed back saying “who says that they want to be leaders?” I understood her question and her point. She did not want me to project my own aspirations onto our children. She wants them to become who God intends for them to be not necessarily who I want them to be. And, she didn’t want them to feel pressured to pursue leadership. But, my wife was missing a premise that many other parents miss as well. To truly understand leadership is to grasp that within every child is a natural born leader. A primary parenting job is to pull your children’s leader nature forward. That is what it means for us as parents to be leaders of our respective homes. In this first of a three-part series, I will address this important topic with a particular faith-based lens to show you your role in bringing the leader forth in your children.
Natural Born Leaders
Leadership may be one of the most mysterious concepts in any culture. When you hear the term, you immediately feel like you know what it means. Your mind, in fact, may hone in on particular people that you think of as leaders. But, when asked to define it beyond “someone who others follow” we often struggle. When reflecting on the topic of leadership, you may visualize an outspoken and charismatic individual who commands the attention of the room. But, beyond being incomplete that stereotype of leadership may hinder your acceptance of what leadership really entails. Furthermore, it causes many to overlook the importance of developing leadership acumen among those who may not neatly fit this stereotype. The paradigm needs to change. Hence my bold but simple assertion that every child is a natural born leader.
There has been a debate in leadership literature over the years. The question has been whether leaders are born or made. Early leadership literature asserted that leadership was about the possession of certain physical and personality traits that were common to leaders. This trait based view of leadership was later supplemented by a more behavioral perspective of leadership examining what successful leaders do. These behavioral theories were largely augmented by theories dubbed “situational” in which researchers focused on the context in which leaders emerge. More recent leadership models are more integrative in nature looking at the manner in which personality, behaviors, context forge leaders.
I focused my doctoral dissertation on this fascinating but enigmatic topic of leadership. After reading hundreds of research articles and writing hundreds of pages myself, I was convinced that most of these leadership models have elements of truth to them. But, I am equally convinced that they are missing a critical element. Many well meaning parents make this same error in raising their children. This missing component is “influence”. Leadership is about influence. The term ‘influence’ is from the Medieval Latin term ‘influentem’ meaning “to flow into”. Buoyed by the rapid evolution of technology, twenty-first century leadership is far less about the charismatic, ingenious, or talented figure that rises to the top of an organization and more about crafting an authentic voice that guides the way others think and act.
You may then question why I believe children are natural born leaders. It has everything to do with their creator. Though my children have the genetic code of my wife and myself, we are not their creator. Sure, we birthed them. But, who they are was prepared by the Creator long before that. The book of Ephesians (2:10) phrases it this way, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In other words, the good works of your children and mine are a God thing. And, good works are always about influencing others towards the kingdom of God.
Leadership Begins at Home
Leadership development must begin in the home at the earliest ages because these are the years when a child’s self-perceptions are being formed. Your home is your child’s first and most pivotal leadership classroom. Lifelong attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are formed in these early years of life. For better or worse, the beliefs that you instill in these formative years stay with them for life. I firmly believe this principle is rooted in the well known biblical proverb, “Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). This biblical guidance speaks directly to parents as spiritual leaders of the home.
Before dissecting this verse, it is important to make one thing crystal clear. Proverbs are not guarantees. In other words, you can do the best parenting job possible and your child can choose to reject you, faith, and who God created them to be. If that happens it is not your fault. Rather, your job is to do the best you possibly can. I really appreciate the way that Garry Brantley phrases it in his article titled ‘“Train up a child”-What does it Mean’?, “To use Proverbs 22:6, therefore, as a litmus test for one’s parental success abuses its nature, and frequently causes unwarranted guilt.”
In this three-part series, I will examine this proverb for the leadership lessons we can glean from it. This first lesson, based on the first part of this verse, focuses on how we in fact are to “train up a child”. What does it even mean?
In a time when so many cultural influences vie for your child’s attention and affection, “train up a child” reminds us parents that it is our responsibility alone to ensure our children understand that they are God’s workmanship—at statement of their inherent value. As parents it is our responsibility to model Christ’s good works for them. As parents, it is our job to keep their eyes focused on the spiritual purpose that is their birthright. Hence, we see the Proverbs 22:6 encouragement to “train up a child” has three pedagogical elements:
- Teach them to know their Creator
- Teach them to walk worthy of their Christian heritage
- Teach them to discern and pursue their life’s purpose
So, how do we as parents train our children along these three paths? I would like to offer five steps to guide your mission (should you choose to accept it).
Five Steps to “Train up your child”
Step 1: Start Early
It is never too early to begin leadership training with your children. Yes, you have to tailor it to the age of the child. But, give your child those positive affirmations early and often. You communicate their value in how you speak to them—even before they understand words themselves. Personally spend time reading books, playing with toys and games, and just having fun. Physically touch them in affectionate ways. This type of engagement builds a secure attachment with your child. It communicates love. It is this secure attachment that forms the trust bond that will make you your child’s go to source for years to come. As the child ages, you adjust your bonding experiences to fit their interests and yours.
Too often parents neglect these responsibilities until their children reach middle school or even high school. Parents are then befuddled when they cannot get through to the child and the relationship feels constantly strained. The key is to start as early as possible.
Step 2: Set High Expectations
Children have an amazing ability to rise to the level of expectation that you have for them. If you consistently affirm in your words and actions the leadership abilities of your child, they become increasingly likely to see themselves that way. If you show them in age appropriate ways how their gifts and interests influence others, they will assume an influencer identity. Push your child’s boundaries. Remember, he or she will face innumerable forces that attempt to pull them towards what cannot be done. You are the voice that tells them what can be done. It is your job to believe big for your child.
Step 3: Show, Don’t Tell
You’ve heard the adage that “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day”. The same goes for developing the leadership potential in your child. It isn’t about you telling your child how wonderful he is or talking about the importance of following her purpose. Rather, it is about letting them see you prioritize God in your life. Let your children see your obedience to Christ. Show them how you are living out your purpose.
Your children should see you as a leader long before they know a formal definition of leadership. These demonstrations will have far more influence that the words that you say. Remember that to a large extent they will pattern their leadership style after you.
Step 4: Stay Consistent
Many parents are able to stay engaged in developing their children’s leadership potential for a short period of time. And, certainly some level of engagement is better than none. But, children that most readily embrace their ability to influence have parents and loved ones who consistently reinforce them. With the distractions all around them and you, consistency offers a stable and predictable presence—which is reassuring to most children (and adults for that matter).
Step 5: Reward Desired Behavior
What gets rewarded gets repeated. When your child displays a desired behavior, give positive reinforcement. Sometimes that can just be verbal acknowledgement. Other times it might be a treat that they value. The main point is to not take it for granted. Don’t just take notice when your child is doing something bad or off-putting. Strive to catch them being good.
So, how do you raise children to be leaders? It is a multi-step process that is more iterative than it is linear. But, it starts with you cultivating a leadership atmosphere in your home. Each child, regardless of age, personality, or temperament is a natural born leader. Each child is full of spiritual promise that comes from the Creator himself. Each child’s good work was prepared for him or her in advance. There is no greater responsibility as a parent than to help your child learn how to use this birthright to wield influence that moves people closer to God. When I pray daily for God to develop my children as leaders in their generation, I am by definition asking him to help me show them that way.
What does “train up a child” mean to you? In what ways has this been easy or difficult for you? I would love to hear your comments.
Be sure to check back for part 2 of this series where we will focus on the next part of this verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go”. Looking forward to sharing these insights with you.
Don’t forget you can get your FREE copy of “The 10 Steps to Your Extraordinary Influence” at haroldarnold.com