Made, Not Born? How to Raise a New Generation of Leaders

Raising Leaders

You practice soccer drills in the driveway, stay up all night helping perfect a science fair project and pay for a pitching coach for your future All Star. Are you also interested in building and encouraging the leadership skills of the young people in your life? Here are some simple steps to take now to raise leaders, and the benefits of doing so early on. 

The need for raising good leaders

Innovating to solve a societal issue, creating a product that elicits joy or introducing a process that eases life for millions: the world needs leaders to shepherd ideas, motivate other employees and inspire greatness. And teaching those skills to the youngest members of society affords them years to grow into strong leaders.

Chicago-based Brett Geeser is a father of two (Grace, 5, and Charlie, 20 months) and the head of paid search for Crossmedia. This school year, Geeser and his wife received positive feedback from Grace’s teachers about how she was exhibiting good leadership traits, even at her young age.

“They told us she looks out for the younger kids in the class, makes sure everyone is following the rules and is a good friend,” Geeser says. 

Not only does that instill the Geesers with pride, but it shows that Grace is demonstrating what she learns at home in her classroom.

“My wife and I understand our kids will never be perfect; however the important thing we can do is lay a positive foundation for our children to grow as a friend, student and member of the community,” Geeser explains.

The Geesers are definitely onto something with their approach to raising leaders. According to this Forbes article authored by HEC Paris Insights, “the noncognitive skills instilled at a youngest age clearly reflects the positive links between cooperation at a social level and building an environment of mutual trust. Learning about the benefits of perseverance, initiative and responsibility when under 10 feeds directly into successful entrepreneurial and business careers.”

The article discusses the Montreal Longitudinal-Experimental Study, which began in 1984 and which focused on how social skills coaching impacted the behavior of kindergarten-age boys of low socioeconomic status. Results of the study, which were published in the early 2000s, demonstrated that “the program brought down average yearly social support by almost 40 percent. It cut rates of social dependency and criminality by double-digit numbers. It increased positive outcomes like employment, household composition, group membership, tuition expenditure, education, charitable donations—and even the likelihood of marriage.” 

But how, exactly, do you go about raising leaders?

Simple conversations can net big rewards

“The key personality traits a good leader should have are empathy, integrity, courage, respect and learning agility,” Geeser said. He and his wife keep those traits in mind during discussions with their daughter. “We talk with Grace regarding her actions, and the consequences of those actions.”

These conversations aren’t scheduled or formal—just information sharing that’s being routinely reinforced.

“They happen on walks to and from school, driving her to after-school activities, during dinner and bedtime or when she gets into trouble,” Geeser explains.

Relay your own experience

Geeser and his wife both work in digital advertising and marketing and have been exposed to a variety of management and communication styles that play into their leadership philosophy.

“Being around great leaders, along with the personality traits that my family values (empathy, respect and learning agility), has enabled us to apply those positive traits in our own management style,” Geeser explains.

So think about the leaders you’ve worked with throughout your career. What lessons would you want to pass along to your children, and what styles would you prefer to leave behind?

Specific tips for raising leaders

Beyond talking to your children, MomJunction provides some actionable ideas for raising leaders, some of which come from a PennState Extension article entitled “Leadership and children”:

  • Setting a good example
  • Sharing moral stories to help teach lessons
  • Teaching them to be responsible for their actions
  • Observing and acknowledging times your child exhibits courageous behavior
  • Providing them with opportunities to make small decisions
  • Teaching them to engage in team cooperation 
  • “[Encouraging] them to explore their interests”
  • “[Encouraging] good communication and problem-solving skills”
  • Developing “team building games, problem-solving tasks and treasure hunt games” to enhance leadership skills
  • Introducing art activities to illustrate key messages and build skills, such as “creating a collage with a leadership theme and having a strong message, choreographing a dance together or taking part in role play relating to leadership.”

Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

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Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.

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