Inspiring LEADERship

by Barbara Gruener

As a teacher and school counselor with three and a half decades of classroom experience growing alongside students of all ages and stages, I'm often asked by parents about leadership, specifically, if every child can be a leader.

My usual answer is that it's actually a gift to do both, to learn to lead as well as to be a strong follower, but for today's post, let's focus on a few of the skills that parents can nurture in their novice leaders.

L is for Love. It has been said that the longest distance we'll ever travel is the 18 inches between our heads and our hearts. With that in mind, I suggest teaching the five love languages while you bridge that divide between cognition and feelings.

Here now, The 5 Love Languages – as defined by Dr. Gary Chapman

Acts of Service – Children who thrive on being a helper, on serving

Gifts – Children who love by making, buying, or giving you presents

Quality time – Children who crave time, attention, connection

Words of Affirmation – Children who compliment and affirm others with words

Physical touch – Children who convey and receive love through touch: hugs, handshakes, high 5s

Points to ponder: How might knowing your love language help as you learn to lead? Might your love language ever get in the way of serving? How?

E is for Empathy, the glorious virtue that invites us in to another person's story and asks us to understand, embrace, and help them through their stuff.

Empathy expert Daniel Goleman identified three types of empathy:

Cognitive empathy: Imagining, understanding with your head. I like to think about this type as a mindset.

Affective empathy (compassion): Embracing, thinking with your heart. While this may not be an actual word, think of this as heart-set.

Behavioral empathy (kindness): Putting it into practice, serving with your hands. Kindness become the skillset that gives empathy its why.

Researcher Brene Brown is quick to caution that empathy isn't about fixing things, but about letting people know that they are not alone, that you see them, that they matter.

Points to ponder: Why does being an empathic leader matter so much? What makes it easy? What makes it difficult?

A is for Appreciation. When people feel appreciated, they will often do more than what's expected. And what we appreciate, appreciates. Make it part of your family's waking-up ritual to name at least three things that you're grateful for, then at the end of the day, name three more. Keep a joy journal. Place day-maker phone calls or send kind texts to let people know you're thinking about them and grateful for them.

Points to ponder: What specific practice can you start today to make gratitude a verb? How do you think that being grateful will help you lead?

D is for Drive. We all crave purpose. Spencer Hall, MD, tells us that living our purpose is as important to our physical health as is our blood pressure and/or our cholesterol levels. But Angela Duckworth says that we can't give our kids their purpose. The good news is that we can model ours to open up the conversation about purpose and passion with them.

Points to ponder: What are you passionate about? What’s your deep-purpose why? How can those whom you serve tell?

E is for Emotional Regulation. Our feelings matter. Talk with your children about feelings. Let them know that we needn’t label feelings good or bad, rather big or small, easy or hard, comfortable or uncomfortable. We must encourage children to honor all of their feelings, to let themselves feel. If they’re not given a safe place to emote, these unexpressed feelings can become undesirable behaviors.

Points to ponder: How do you regulate your own feelings? How do you model and teach emotional regulation? What helps you respond rather than react?

R is for Reflection. John Dewey says we don’t learn from our experience but by reflecting on that experience, so it's critical that we encourage reflection time. Suggest a time and/or place for your children to reflect; it could be as easy as a tuck-in time ritual that you can start right now: How was your day? What went well? What could have gone better? What did you learn? How did you grow?

Points to ponder: How and when do you carve out time to practice reflective learning to lead?

Can everyone be a LEADER? Absolutely! In fact, John Quincy Adams said this about leadership: If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

So there you have it; anyone can be a leader. Oh, one more really important thing, if we want them to be LEADERs, we must equip and empower, then get out of their way. It's okay if they fall; trust me, because you've done your job well, they'll be back up again before you know it.

Here's to the LEADER in all of us.

Uplifted Youth