The qualities that define leadership, and seven ways parents can help their children develop those traits and skills

The goal of parenting is to raise children who can be the leaders of tomorrow. But what exactly does it mean to be a leader? Even more important, how can parents and educators nurture leadership virtues while children are still young?

Defining leadership

Some qualities of leadership are intangible, others may be genetic, but many learned behaviors emerge in almost all good leaders. Peter Economy, known as “The Leadership Guy” for his Inc. column and over 100 books on leadership, summarizes these qualities into nine traits leaders should strive to “model for every day”:

  1. Awareness
  2. Decisiveness
  3. Empathy
  4. Accountability
  5. Confidence
  6. Optimism
  7. Honesty
  8. Focus
  9. Inspiration

Other leadership gurus may list a different number of keywords, but most come up with a similar list. These are the things that set leaders apart.

Seven ways to teach children to be leaders

If those qualities are the goal, how can you consciously develop them in your children? Here are seven good techniques to use.

1. Encourage children to take risks

All parents want to protect their children, but it is essential for a growing child to learn that some chances are OK. They must be allowed to take risks. “Being afraid to fail holds kids back and prevents them from achieving what they’re capable of doing,” says Jamie M. Howard, Ph.D., director of the Child Mind Institute’s Stress and Resilience Program. “If things don’t work out as hoped for your kids, having experience failing means they can cope with it.”

2. Let them make decisions

The ability to make decisions is vital to childhood development and the transition to adulthood. Kids should be encouraged to make decisions as early as possible. Add some parameters so they do not feel overwhelmed, such as limiting the number of choices, but encourage them to weigh the pros and cons and make an informed choice.

3. Refrain from taking over

From the dreaded science project to a difficult activity, refrain from jumping in and taking over your child’s projects. Even when children are struggling, it is important to encourage them to solve the problems on their own. If a child does make a mistake, use the occasion to talk about other choices he or she could have made that would have resulted in a better outcome.

4. Grow leaders over time

Growth mindset is the concept that people who believe they can develop complex skills through diligent practice and hard work are more able to do so. For children, a growth mindset allows them to develop the skills they will need to grow as people, achieve what they want, and meet challenges and setbacks with confidence rather than fear.

5. Encourage them to work

Speaking of work, encouraging your child to get a job can be very beneficial to his or her development. Whether it is the time-honored tradition of a lemonade stand, babysitting on weekends, or a part-time job after school, they will begin to understand the value of time, work, money, and how to balance those factors to reach their goals.

6. Practice confident communication

Children today spend much of their time “communicating” through electronic devices rather than talking directly to other people, and this has led to a recognized decline of communication skills. Parents can overcome that effect by doing simple things to help their children build confident communication abilities. For example, encouraging kids to order their own food at restaurants rather than doing it for them. Embolden them to speak for themselves.

7. Encourage children to join a team

Group activities provide essential life lessons in compromise, communication, and teamwork. That can mean sports, scouting, drama, band, or any of a long list of other group activities. The important thing is to spark the child’s interest in an activity that exposes them to all the complexity of engaging with their peers.

Raising a leader is not easy. Use these suggestions as a starting point to encourage the qualities that will help your children grow into confident adults who can achieve great things and inspire others to do the same.

American Heritage Schools is a leader in private education, academic excellence, and innovation. With two locations, Broward County and Palm Beach County, Florida, we serve 4,600 students grades Pre-K 3 through 12. American Heritage Schools was recently named the #1 Private School for academic success with the highest number of National Merit Scholars of all private schools in the nation. For over 55 years, our mission of knowledge, integrity, and compassion through developing the full potential of each child to be an active, intelligent, creative, and contributing member of society. Contact an admissions director for more information or sign up for a campus tour.