Leadership is often associated with good oratory skills. It is usually thought that only those who are extroverts or socially popular can be good leaders. Another widespread perception about leadership is that this quality is inherent and can’t be learned. Nothing could be further from truth. Leadership, like many other qualities, can not only be learnt but also mastered over time.
Take the example of the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Late Ms Jayalalithaa. She had confessed in an interview that during her school days, she was a shy girl and apprehensive about meeting new people. But later, she went on to achieve great heights in the corridors of politics, and led her state with conviction and vigour.
Her example proves that leadership qualities can surely be picked up over the years. This brings us to our most important question.
Who is a leader?
When we think of a leader, we imagine an individual who raises questions, argues or opposes the establishment. But a leader is much more than that. A good leader is compassionate but assertive. He has high moral standards, social and emotional intelligence, and an ability to connect with others. A good leader questions the status quo, but not without a reason.
Learning to be a leader involves developing a voice of one’s own. It is also about taking initiatives when needed and pursuing what one believes in. Going by this description, every child can be taught to become a leader.
Why are leadership skills necessary?
Some children are not leaders, but followers. So, should parents try to change them?
Being a follower may not always be bad. Children who are followers also have important qualities such as compassion and empathy.
However, chances are that children without natural leadership skills may be submissive and lack the courage to stand up for themselves. This can make them vulnerable to undue influence and manipulation. Therefore, parents should try to instil certain leadership qualities in children, irrespective of their personality types.
How to instil leadership in preteens?
Training preteens to be leaders is a huge responsibility and requires persistence. Here are a few tips to help parents develop leadership skills in tweens.
1. Allow making choices and taking chances
Parents usually tend to be overprotective and don’t want to see their children get hurt. But sometimes it is important to let children get hurt, as it helps them learn more about the choices they make and their consequences.
Allowing children to learn from their mistakes will help them develop confidence and understand the power of their choices.
2. Build emotional and social intelligence
Howard Gardner came up with the theory of multiple intelligence. He found that most people know only about academic intelligence, although there are various other kinds of intelligence as well.
According to him, of all the types of intelligences, it is vital for a leader to have emotional and social intelligences. Emotional intelligence is linked to self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and the ability to handle relationships. Social intelligence, on the other hand, is that quality which helps an individual get along well with others and establish cooperation.
Children acquire intelligences primarily from their parents. They do so by observing how their parents respond to circumstances and how they manage their own emotions. So, parents should set a good example for their children to follow.
3. Inculcate a passion for learning
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the former US president, put it aptly when he said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
Parents should instil an attitude for learning in their children early on by encouraging them to read, think, analyse and reflect. By encouraging children to learn, parents can prepare them to achieve success. If children are curious about learning new things, places and people, they will put in extra effort to read, explore and gain knowledge.
As children learn more, they develop the ability to have more insightful conversations and understand things at a more foundational level.
4. Develop good communication skills
Good language skills is generally equated with good communication skills. But the two skills differ from each other. Children with excellent linguistic skills may not be very good when it comes to interpersonal communication. This can affect their ability to lead or reach out to others.
A good leader has the ability to communicate effectively in different situations. Parents should nurture this crucial skill by building self-confidence in their children from a very young age. They can do this by playing interactive games with children, encouraging them to participate in extra-curricular activities such as debates, making them direct and act in plays, helping them hone their public speaking and communication skills, and so on.
5. Promote sportsmanship
Sportsmanship is useful not only when children play a sport, it is needed in every sphere of life. When children work or play together, they need to learn to perform a variety of actions such as persevere while facing difficulties, concede failure graciously, motivate others, and take charge when the situation demands. All these qualities are marks of sportsmanship.
By encouraging children to take up a sport and practice it actively, parents can help them learn sportsmanship. This, in turn, will teach them valuable lessons related to teamwork and leadership, which they can then apply in other areas of their life.
6. Teach negotiation skills
All great leaders are skilled negotiators, as they know the value of what they believe in. The ability to negotiate is a rare skill and is difficult to acquire. Many people find it hard to say ‘no’ or effectively present an alternative, when they are presented with an offer they are not comfortable with. But negotiation skills can be taught and learned.
Parents can help their children learn negotiating skills by encouraging them to come up with well-reasoned arguments when there are disagreements.
7. Encourage decision-making abilities
Believing themselves to be worldly wise, parents often take decisions on behalf of their children. Doing so hinders the decision-making ability of children and strips away their confidence.
Therefore, parents should encourage children to take their own decisions. They can teach this by asking children to come up with options when facing a situation, analysing the pros and cons of each option, and then going ahead and selecting the best one. Whether it is about choosing the next holiday destination or buying the next car, children should be encouraged to have a say in all the important matters.
8. Lead by example
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ is an old saying, which is commonly used to refer to children who are like their parents. Social scientists have shown that children learn most by observing and imitating. As a result, they often grow up with the same beliefs, prejudices and attitudes that their parents have. This is not just limited to negative behaviours, but is true for positive behaviours as well. Children of parents having a healthy sense of self-esteem often grow up to show similar traits.
Therefore, it is important for parents to set a good example of leadership right from the time when their children are young.
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly." - Jim Rohn
There is a fine line between being bold and being a bully. As parents and educators, we need to understand and reinforce humility, positive self-image and modesty in our children. And make sure they grow up with the right qualities and skills to help them handle the responsibilities of future with confidence.
Deepa Garwa is an educationist, disability rights activist, writer, and a mother of two. She writes about her experiences on raising her daughter with Down syndrome at www.twominuteparenting.com
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