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Entrepreneurial Lessons Can Instill Confidence — Even in Children Who Don’t Become Businesspeople

If you want your children to succeed, raise them to think and solve problems like an entrepreneur.

To raise kids who solve problems, teach them to think like an entrepreneur
Kids who think like entrepreneurs can solve problems — no matter what industry they end up in.

Too often, parents focus on academics to develop leadership in their kids. Daughter got an “A” on a test? It’s proof she’s a smart student who’s ready to advance. Son got a “B-” on a science lab? He’s obviously on a path to nowhere.

While these responses are understandable, they don’t necessarily mean anything in the real world. As an intriguing Inc. article points out, the 4.0 GPA daughter might labor under a fixed mindset centered on perfectionism. In other words, she’s concentrating on doing everything right, but she never takes risks. Thus, she gets stellar grades, but mainly because she never allows herself to think outside the box.

The son with the B-, however, could have a growth mindset — and be well on his way to success as a leader, problem solver, or entrepreneur. In other words, he’s more apt to try new ways of solving problems, even if they lead to lower marks in school. He’s an inventor, someone who values the process, not just the outcome.

Looking through this lens, the academically successful daughter might find it difficult to navigate the constantly changing world of entrepreneurship, whereas the son may breeze through challenge after challenge.

This snapshot shows a disconnect between parental expectations and what truly matters in the world of work. Without characteristics like resiliency, curiosity, goal-setting, open-mindedness, self-discipline, competitiveness, and passion — traits often found in entrepreneurs — kids aren’t likely to enjoy running their own operations. They’re also unlikely to disrupt legacy industries or struggle to carve out a niche. And each of those traits comes from deliberate parental guidance.

Fostering the Traits of Entrepreneurship

Not sure you’re doing what you can to develop the inner entrepreneur in your child? Start by fostering these ways of thinking.

1. Encourage effort, not just results.

We tend to value product over process in families, which is why we praise winning report cards and gold medals. Certainly, those victories should be celebrated, but not for the reasons they commonly are.

Entrepreneurs discover early that failures lead to successes when they’re willing to learn from them. Encourage your kids to structure their thinking in similar ways by talking not about the end, but about the journey. For example, if your daughter wins a high school tennis match, don’t praise her for being the best. Instead, praise her for diligently going to lessons, practicing on her own, setting up time to play with competitive friends, working out in the gym to build her stamina, and eating healthy foods.

Looking at every outcome from a cumulative perspective helps a child put everything together. This ability to see the importance of each step toward an objective will help him or her develop a penchant for looking beyond today to tomorrow.

2. Discuss, don’t demonize, mistakes.

What would you do if your child brought home 10 pounds of an explosive? Jim Marggraff, serial entrepreneur and LeapPad inventor, once found himself in that position. In his forthcoming book “How to Raise a Founder With Heart,” he tells a story about his son, a chemistry enthusiast, who wanted to experiment with sodium, which can self-combust when exposed to moisture or air.

Marggraff initially approved of his son, Blake, purchasing the sodium and willingly handed over the money for him to do so — not realizing just how much he would buy. After Blake bought an unsafe amount and had it shipped to their home, Marggraff could have had a knee-jerk reaction and berated his son for the potentially disastrous mistake. Instead, he used the experience as a chance for high-level problem-solving. Marggraff saw the long-term value in taking a deep breath instead of losing his cool. “Leaders must be able to cope with problems directly and effectively, and those skills are learned in childhood,” he explains. He and Blake worked together to dispose of the excess sodium — with the help of a hazmat team, of course.

The next time you’re about to blow your stack because your child made an honest error, think twice. Perhaps it’s a time to teach, not punish.

3. Grow your child’s emotional intelligence.

You probably think about your child’s intelligence quotient (IQ), but do you consider what his or her emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) is? Emotional intelligence could mean as much for his or her future success as IQ does.

Interestingly, research shows that despite our belief in the power of IQ, EQ could be even more responsible for entrepreneurial achievement. Information culled from the Initiative One Leadership Institute indicates that people with high EQs are likely to earn an average of $29,000 more each year compared to those with low EQs. Plus, they make stronger leaders and managers, which leads to higher profit margins and top talent retention — thanks to their ability to interpret their own and others’ emotions and to respond with empathy, compassion, and positivity.

How do you build EQ in a child or teenager? Begin by allowing kids to have and process their own emotions. Also, talk about the verbal and physical cues that hint at how someone is feeling so your kids become more aware of the needs of those around them. And if you’re having a tough time with your own EQ, be open about the topic so your family can foster everyone’s EQ together.

Not everyone will start his or her own business. That’s OK. Just having entrepreneurial traits can lead to a lifetime of self-satisfaction and improved confidence, opening doors for your kids — no matter what they end up doing for a living.

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