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A Leader in Every Desk — Teaching Kids to be Leaders

Cory Dobbs, Ed.D., Paradise Valley Unified School District

Imagine a sign over the door of every classroom. The colorful sign says, Urgently Needed: Young Leaders.

Would your child be prepared to answer this call? Unfortunately, too many of us have fallen into the trap that leaders are the select and chosen few and that followers are the vast majority. Yet, leadership is not an all-or-nothing ability, something you either have or don’t have.

The truth is that all young people have some capacity for leadership. Leadership skills are instilled, not inherited. One of the best things we can do for young people is help them develop to be leaders.

Leadership training starts at home. As your child’s first teacher, your goal should be to set the right example. Do what it takes to excite, motivate, and inspire your child to lead at home, on the playground, and in the hallways at school. Appeal to the young leader’s sense of adventure and make the invisible sign above the classroom door visible.

A leader in every desk is not about dividing students into leaders and non-leaders. Rather it’s about trying to develop the capabilities in each and every student to stand up to the many challenges of leadership. It is about teaching that leadership is a human endeavor, that leadership is about such issues as integrity, character, and helping others.

Prepare Children for a Lifetime of Leadership
It’s up to us as parents, teachers, coaches, and youth group advisors to instill these four fundamentals into their lives. Here are a few ways you can teach and coach your child to become a leader:
1. Build Confidence to Build Competence.
Confidence comes from success. Be alert to opportunities. The only way your children can succeed is through accepting opportunities to lead. Nudge them outside their comfort zone; empower them to get up and take action. Challenge your child and support them when they struggle.

2. Create an environment where your child can flourish.
Help your children construct a long-term perspective. Help them develop a game plan for turning their vision into reality. Teach them that success and accomplishment are not measured by how they compare to someone else, but how much they improve from where they started.

3. Establish healthy relationships.
Show them how to build positive relationships. Encourage your children to, as best possible, work through their conflicts on their own first. Teach them how to maturely deal with disagreements. Embolden them to say, “Let’s work together.”

4. Remember that kids will be kids.
Leadership is hard work. All young leaders will constantly ask themselves, “So why should I be a leader?” They need to be taught, nurtured, and guided along their journey. Take the time to understand how your child is progressing as they strive to lead. All kids will engage in inner struggles over self-doubt, frustration, and uncertainty. They will be challenged and tested and need you to come alongside and pick them up as they experience setbacks.

As your child begins their leadership journey, remind them that there is no magical path to succeed as a leader. Rather, it is a way of life.

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