The Hard Labor of Growing Leaders

December 13, 2017

Need some parenting inspiration during the mad rush of the holiday season? Take time to appreciate that your creative, cute but sometimes difficult offspring are being groomed to lead the next generation. Hard to believe sometimes… but take a hard look at our parenting styles today versus the parenting styles of the past. Things sure have changed!

The Hard Labor of Growing Leaders
By Amy Fortney Parks, PhD, LPC, featured in Fairfax Woman Magazine

These days, it’s rare for anyone in our family to break a sweat.  Sure, we work out (much less often than we should) in an air-conditioned gym or attend a yoga class and occasionally feel a bit “flushed”.  The kids play sports and they get a little more dirty and smelly.  But, for the most part, we don’t exert ourselves with the backbreaking labor of our forefathers who had to work the land to eat – not pop into Whole Foods for dinner from the meat counter!

The hard labor of working the land has slowly disappeared, and along with it, the hard labor of modeling and teaching leadership.  We are losing many of the fundamental lessons in our families that are critical for the development of leadership in our children.  And it’s past time to break a sweat, folks!

1. We don’t let our children take risks

Our world is quick to flash the “Danger” sign at every turn!  Of course, it is our job after all, to make sure our children are safe, but we are bubble wrapping them so tightly that we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking.  Yes, the risks are greater these days then when we were kids.  But research in early childhood education shows that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience falling down (and getting back up), they are more likely to have anxiety as adults.  If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will be encouraging high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. We rescue too quickly

Our children are not developing the life skills they need to fix their own problems because often we swoop in and take care of problems for them.  Isn’t it always easier to just do it ourselves?  When we rescue too quickly, we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short-term and it misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail, an adult will smooth things over for me.” In reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.

3. We praise smart over effort

The self-esteem movement has been around for decades, but it began in our school systems in the 1980s.  The “everyone gets a trophy” mentality might make our kids feel special, but current research shows that this method has unintended consequences. There is no such thing as “special” when everyone gets the title! When we praise kids for just showing up, rather than the effort to be successful, they eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to reinforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions.

4. We don’t admit our own mistakes

If you know a teen, you have surely observed that they have a healthy desire to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own.  And it’s ok to share our own “flights” of independence, and the related outcomes, whether they were good or not-so-good. Kids have to prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

5. We don’t practice what we preach

As parents, it is our responsibility to live the life we want our children to lead.  It is our job to pay more attention to the quality of our kid’s character than the day-to-day annoying behaviors we spend so much energy managing.  As the leaders in our homes, we can start by being honest – about our own character.  Our kids notice everything we do.  Show your kids what it means to give selflessly to the community, to make strong and safe decisions, and to communicate with integrity and understanding.

Growing leaders might mean doing some hard work on our own leadership traits.  And there may be times when you aren’t quite sure what decisions will lead to the best outcomes!  Great leaders know when they need to outsource!  So if you are struggling, get some help!  Any kid can be a follower, but it takes a wise parent to raise a leader

Until next week, Be Wise!