One of the most important things a children’s minister can do, for the sake of young leader development, is to educate parents who find themselves raising a child with an inordinate amount of leadership aptitude. I’m an only child, raised by a dad who, how can I say it nicely, acted as if there was room for only one leader in our family … him. Therefore, at home I wore a mask of passivity, while at school I practiced my leadership abilities among my peers. I got a couple of Cs in conduct, but I primarily exercised my social influence on the playground, picking recess activities and starting informal clubs.
Unfortunately, many parents fail to develop their child’s leadership capacity, because they misunderstand young leaders and confuse their roles as parents. A family-friendly ministry will empower parents to improve their skills in this area, not just parenting. As a result you’ll enhance the village approach to leader development, as has been the practice of tribes and cultures throughout history.
Once you identify the children in your ministry who seem to express more social influence than others, gather these kids’ parents for a brief seminar or coaching session, based on the following principles.
- Identify leadership styles and capacities. Parents often try to make their child be like them. This is also true in the area of leading. Four primary styles exist, parallel to temperament types. Each style possesses a distinct set of strengths and weaknesses.
Upside: strong, visionary, to the point, determined, high energy
Downside: bossy, pushy, impulsive, closed to others’ opinions
Upside: people oriented, upbeat, positive, motivating
Downside: flighty, enjoys limelight, poor follow through
Upside: good at planning, focused, thoughtful, analytical
Downside: stubborn, negative, fearful, reserved
Upside: good under pressure, relational, non-offensive
Downside: passive-aggressive, lazy, avoids conflict
The tendency is for the parent to try to replicate their style of leading. A Director parent will try to make a Collaborator child become more “directing.” An Inspirer parent will strive to make a Strategist more lively and outgoing. Years ago, parents tried to change left-handed kids into right-handers. We often do the same with our personalities, because we’re aware of others’ weaknesses, but overlook the downside of our own.
In addition to style is capacity. On a 1-5 point scale, 1 being low and 5 being high, what would you estimate your capacity at leading? Are you low octane or high octane? Now, estimate your spouse’s capacity. Do the same for your child(ren). If you are a low capacity leader trying to raise higher potential kids, then you’ll need to intentionally “up” your game in order to challenge them sufficiently. You’ll also need to set healthy boundaries, so they don’t try to take over your role as parent.
If you’re a higher octane leader with a lower capacity child, your challenge will be monitoring tendencies to overpower your child. When you come across too strong, you’ll inhibit your child’s leadership capacity and intimidate him, often without realizing it. Give your child opportunities to lead. Ask her opinion. Affirm them, being very cognizant that you not overwhelm them with your leadership presence. If you’re always leading, your child will defer to you and won’t be developing his/her potential.
Put on the leadership coach hat. There’s a constant temptation to
operate from a parenting mindset with young leaders, which tends to backfire. For example, let’s say your 10-year-old tells a story of a food fight at school, begun by Bobbie and John. The parent wants to make sure her child wasn’t involved and reprimand the others for their bad behavior. But if you put on your coach cap, you won’t condemn. You’ll ask exploratory questions such as: “Do the other kids tend to follow Bobbie and John at other times? Why do you think that’s so? Do you think their decision to start a food fight was a good choice? What were the results?”
Love and logic is a good parenting approach, but it is vital when raising a young leader, because you want to help the child make the connection between his/her choices and consequences. A leader who has not learned self-discipline as a child will tend to implode as an adult, when power tempts the leader to overlook consequences.
Provide home leadership projects. Another parental tendency is to teach kids responsibility through chores, but this is different than leadership development that involves multiple people working together toward a common goal. For example, instead of asking your 12-year-old to fix dinner for the family, say, “Sarah, we’d like you to organize our family for dinner next week. You’ll determine what we’ll eat, whether we have the food and if not, who’ll buy it and what the cost (budget) will be. You’ll need to determine who will cook, serve, and clean up, as well as when everyone will be available to eat.” Afterward, provide a short debrief on what went well and what didn’t. Such an activity has all the elements of more complex leadership situations, involving problem solving, limited resources, potential conflict, roles, and teamwork. You’ve turned a household chore into a robust leadership training project.
Specialized parent training sessions like this can significantly elevate your stock value in the eyes of parents, who are often oblivious to their child’s leadership wiring. Far too many social influencers are punished for their gifting when they are merely trying to practice what God designed into them. By coming alongside parents in this way, you’ll also benefit your ministry as they practice at home.
For more info on this subject, read KidLead: Growing Great Leaders. For a free 1-hour workshop on “Developing Your Child’s Leadership Potential,” go to http://vimeo.com/16858907.