[July 20, 2016] Of course, children can learn leadership … and like a second language it’s easier to teach them while they’re young and eager to be taught. Many psychological studies show that what and how we learn at a young age influences us throughout our lives; all the more reason to teach leadership to kids.
I’ve personally taught children about leadership. One reason I’ve been so successful is that I do my best to hold their attention and block outside distractions. Using interesting stories and music are two techniques but most applications will do if you possess the passion. Children are quick to pick up on your personal curiosity (about leadership) and if you are willing to accept them for whom they are, they will see that too. Teachers use this all the time and are generally very good at it.
Today, however, is not about teaching techniques but about subject matter and how and when to deliver it. My wife found it curious that those same subjects I teach children are exactly the same that I use to teach young adults who have trouble with the law and have struggled with discipline in school. It may also be of interest to those who study leadership that I use this subject matter with mid-grade soldiers who have also had difficulty doing well in their jobs.
Before I list the subjects that I teach, there is one important note. No child is too young to participate as long as they possess basic reading skills and have their parents’ or guardians’ permission. Reading is the most basic competency that tells me that they do have both the potential and desire to learn.
Here are those primary leadership subjects in the order that I generally teach them. They come to my house to learn where I can control the environment. I go beyond merely telling them to do something but show how it works through stories and practical exercises. In Part 1 of this three-part series, I will list those “never” lessons. I find these are easy to learn intellectually but often hard to apply.
- Never lie, cheat, or steal: Some will argue this is not a leadership skill but I disagree. It’s at the heart of being a successful leader. Telling stories about these sins of leadership is not enough. Kids must be convinced that they are better people when they don’t lie, cheat, or steal. I throw a few coins on the ground before the kids arrive and observe how they react to it. A great teaching point.
- Never quit, never give up: Teaching perseverance to kids is tough but pays dividends later in their leadership studies when many want to have fun some other way. This takes considerable mentoring to work and the children must have support from their families.
- Never show anger, frustration, or disrespect: This one is intellectually easy but tough in application. It requires practicing a few techniques that slowly builds on how to push strong negative emotions away. I remember my drill sergeant yelling in my face to toughen me up; I don’t use this but it works.
- Never complain or make excuses, when things don’t go your way or for the failure of yourself or others: Usually this teaching this involves a few good stories and anecdotes. There are many resources, particularly from ancient Greek and Roman writings.
- Never disobey your parents or teacher, unless it puts you or others in danger: Obedience and respect for authority, it appears, is no longer taught in the modern family or at most schools. Fundamentally, if a person cannot obey, they will be incapable of following and ultimately never a good leader.
Part 2 of this series on teaching children leadership will be about what they can learn that will have the most immediate positive impact on their lives. And, teaching is more than academics. It means practice, practice, and more practice.
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