My best friend from birth was Ilene Sher. She was the greatest leader I ever met. All that I learned about leadership, I learned from her. Though she died several years ago from cancer, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her and the lessons she taught me.
Ilene was an only child. She was kind, self-confident, generous, and had a wonderful sense of herself. Her mother was a working mother. She organized life for Ilene so that, though a latchkey kid, Ilene never felt less than. In fact, the structure and organization created by Mrs. Sher for Ilene, made her know what to expect, what her options were, and what to expect from others. She knew how to stay safe, by staying on schedule.
Also, her mother never missed a chance to teach Ilene about life. Whether it was how to dance, do homework, be a friend, give yourself a manicure, or clean your bedroom and bathroom on Saturday mornings before playtime – she consistently taught her leadership skills through everyday interactions.
I benefited from all these leadership lessons because I spent every Saturday at Ilene’s house. Not only did her Mom’s rules and lessons help me, but I then taught them to my own children.
Here are some ways to help teach your children how to lead through your daily interactions with them:
- Know the rules and teach your children how to act under all circumstances. Then, help them by practicing and rehearsing with them, so that their responses and reactions become second nature. Confidence leads to self-competence. All too often, your children miss the opportunity to experience what you teach them on a theoretical level. It is important to practice and rehearse the skills needed for leadership at home, in private, so that your child can call upon those skills in real-life situations. Sports, scouts, enrichment activities, such as reading, writing, drama clubs and group activities of all kinds, are ways to help teach your child the successful relationship behaviors that build competency.
- Help your children develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. Helping your child make age-appropriate decisions will guide them towards the principles of responsibility and commitment necessary for social engagement. Listen and communicate with your children so that you know them, see them, and help them deal with the problems that are relevant to them. By investing your children in the decision-making and problem-solving process, you are building that secure central core so important for good self-esteem. When your child is young, help him or her choose what to wear out of several candidates chosen by you. As he or she gets older, use my empathic process to invest your child in the consequences of his or her actions. Be what you want to see: always model good decision-making and also show your child how to positively remediate the poor decisions that you will inevitably make.
- Make your family work like a team. At our house we call our family “Team Gross.” It is important to learn how to lead, and how to follow. When my friend Ilene’s mother taught us how to dance, she would make us take turns following. I remember how very present she was and how she paid attention to Ilene and what she was doing. Though tired, and a working mom, who even worked on Saturdays, she taught Ilene how to relate positively with other children. Life is about relationships, and that requires being able to get along with all people, from all walks of life. This teaches managerial skills that are relevant for leadership, including not having your own way or dominating. Good leaders value their team and listen to the ideas of others; they don’t take the rejection of their ideas personally, pout, or try to over-control. Study groups, team sports, extracurricular activities, and clubs can help here. Be a life coach to your child, know him or her, and listen and guide your child to his or her leadership potential.
- Teach and model friendliness, optimism, enthusiasm, humor, kindness, and warmth for your child. These are the characteristics of successful social interaction: the verbal and non-verbal cues necessary for communication and relationship. Even if your child is shy, he or she can be taught, through behavior modification, to be more outgoing and interested in others. Warmth is the tide that binds, and good leaders know this intuitively. An emotional I.Q. is a great asset for leadership.
- Help your child find his or her passion. This is a skill unto itself, which can be taught along with motivation. As an involved and engaged parent you can guide your child to find his or her passion by encouraging his or her interests and creativity. This is how your child will find the intrinsic value in all they do; how they will come to learn for the love of learning and play for the love of the game.
As you teach your child the above skills, you can weave in these important life lessons that all leaders need to be aware of:
- If you don’t need credit for a job well done, anything can be accomplished. Good leaders know this axiom. They keep their eye on the ball: on their agendas and goals.
- Stay calm in the face of a storm. A self-confident leader has a good sense of himself, a clear plan, and a way to deal with challenges.
- A feedback system that assures good self-evaluation and rapid self-adjustment is important. A flexible ability to adapt to different environments as well as crisis is essential to leadership.
- Honesty, above all else. Teach your child that his or her actions should line up with his or her behavior, because in leadership, trust is everything — and trust is based on experience. Teach authenticity and a good, strong sense of values. This means integrity, no gossiping, and always taking responsibility for errors.
- Leaders must be able to assert themselves and their agenda. When Sheryl Sandberg said “Lean In,” she was talking about assertiveness, not aggression. Teach your child cordiality, tact, and clarity when explaining what they need from others (their team).
- You must have courage. The “No risk, no reward,” mantra is practiced by leaders who have mastered good core values, strong inner vision, and self-control.
Finally, remember to use my empathic process with your children. This teaches empathy for yourself and others, which is the most essential characteristic for emotional intelligence and leadership.