Leadership For Kids Highlights Lessons For Adults

Over the years I have had the good fortune to have been asked to provide some leadership development sessions for children. I usually work with adults and many of those adults are highly educated so we often go into quite complex areas when we facilitate leadership programs. Working with children therefore poses a considerable challenge. How do we distil quite complex information into an easily understood format for children?

The answer lies in having the capacity to understand leadership in such a way that it can be focussed into some simple concepts. Through some trial and error I have discovered some concepts that seem to work, with interesting feedback from the adults who have witnessed the programs.

Three key concepts have emerged as being the ones that children seem to be able to embrace:

1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices

1) Everyone is a leader
Over time I have found some interesting trends when working with children. When I have asked them to raise their hands if they believe that they are a leader or could be one in the future, virtually all the children raise their hand. When I then ask them, “Who are leaders?” they unanimously respond, “We are!”.

What response do you think that I usually hear from adults?

Very few adults raise their hand to indicate that they think that they are a leader.

For children, the concept that everyone is a leader and they have to lead themselves seems relatively natural, yet for adults it seems (for many) quite foreign. When we facilitate leadership education for adults one of our key themes is that you can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself. My experience has taught me that children understand this idea, so we adults have a responsibility to continue to help them understand this concept by re-enforcing that they are, in fact leaders. To do this, find them making positive choices and recognise them for it. The importance of choices is explained in the second lesson below.

2) The Figure 8 of Leadership

While my experience with adults is that it takes them a while to comprehend that leadership can be for bad reasons (equalling poor leadership) just as it can be for good reasons (equalling good leadership), children seem to understand this concept quite easily. This raises the important issue of self leadership, which feeds off the first concept above, that we are all leaders.

In simple terms self-leadership starts with choices. Some choices are good choices and lead to good behaviour, while other choices are poor choices and lead to poor behaviour. The good choices represent good leadership, and the poor choices represent poor leadership. On many levels this is quite simple. And it is! Children seem to understand it and can easily provide many examples of good choices and poor choices which result in good leadership or poor leadership.

The simple power of the model lies in the fact that children have the capacity to start making good choices even if they have made some poor ones. In other words, the start of good leadership is only a choice away. Clearly the reverse is also true; poor leadership is only a choice away as well. I recall a child in one session raising his hand and saying,

“I’ve been making lots of bad choices at school such as not listening to teachers and picking on other kids. I thought that I was a bad person and I didn’t realise that I was a leader. But what you’re saying is that I only have to start making good choices and I can be a good leader. I like that idea. I can do that.”

None of us are perfect. We will all make poor choices. Overall leadership is dependent upon the balance of our choices. Are they generally on the good half of the model, or the poor half? Over time we can consciously develop positive habits to enhance our good leadership through making good choices. Maybe this leadership stuff isn’t so hard after all, which leads to the third and final concept.

3) Being responsible for your choices
Rather than blaming other people or circumstances for our choices, personal responsibility for our choices increases the probability that we will make good choices. Once again children seem to easily understand such a statement. Maybe they see the consequences of their choices more clearly than we adults do because they have so many adults around them monitoring their behaviour. Yet when we become adults often we stop getting that sort of feedback because of many complicated reasons. What if we adults were to actively seek out feedback on the choices that we are making and our resultant behaviours? Maybe such feedback would assist us in better leading ourselves. And we never know, the better we lead ourselves the more likely others may be to follow.

In summary, the key features of Leadership for Kids that may provide some lessons for adults include:
1) We are all leaders;
2) Our choices lie at the heart of effective leadership; and
3) Personal responsibility for our choices will enhance our capacity to lead ourselves and others.

How do these lessons apply to you?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

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