Silent and still, I stayed there, sitting on a giant bean bag in the corner of the room, watching Dakota take her younger brother on an imaginary adventure. With gentleness and grace, she showed him the ropes of playing make believe. I adored the way he listened to her, eyes wide, soaking in every word she was teaching him.
When I think about the things I want for Dakota and her two brothers, near the top of the list is the heart of a leader. I want them to grow to be men and women who lead with grace, gentleness, courage, and humility. It doesn’t matter to me if they are leaders in a major corporation, a local school, at a job site, or in their home with their own children. Leaders are not made by their title or position, but by their actions and character.
Both now as children, and later as adults, I want these three children to lead others by the way they live and love others. It’s an essential part of raising them to be world changers, individuals who model Christ and a life of purpose in a way that draws others to follow suit.
Here are four ways we can develop leadership qualities in children.
- Empower them to do it
I’m such a doer. To me, it will always be more efficient for me to do it myself or for me to show them how it’s done. But always doing the tasks they are capable to do and never letting them take the chance to practice leading robs them of growth opportunities.
I make it a point to encourage them to do the everyday tasks and projects they can take on themselves. Beyond that, I empower them to take risks in trying new things. What if I let big brother Wyatt show little brother Tucker how to measure out the ingredients for our homemade cookies? It gives Wyatt the opportunity to exercise patience and learn to speak gently as his brother learns a new skill.
- Be okay to let them fail
Wyatt’s attempt to teach his brother how to measure ingredients could end in disaster, with tears and flour all over the floor. That’s okay. Failure is not a permanent black mark on our future, and I want these kids to learn that now in the safety of their home.
As an international leader, I am no stranger to failure. It’s a natural part of life. Eventually, we all fail in big and small ways. It’s evidence of a person who is willing to take risks and try new things. These small, at-home failures give me opportunities to teach them how to take their disappointment to Jesus, learn from it, and move forward with confidence to try again.
- Call out specifics
Wyatt, Dakota, and Tucker are three completely different people with completely different gifts and abilities. When I see them exercise those gifts and abilities, I aim to acknowledge and speak value into them. In the Amplified Bible translation, Proverbs 22:6 reads,
Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.
When we know who we are and what we are gifted to do, when we discover what we are most passionate about, we thrive. It fills us with commitment and dedication, giving us confidence to walk in the path we are on and not depart from it.
If I can call out in these children how God is gifting them, and help them discover the things they are passionate about, I will be helping to form them into life-long followers of Jesus who can lead others in finding their own unique giftedness.
- Model leading with love
Working for a Christian ministry, there is no situation in which I would get away with screaming at my staff. Being their leader doesn’t give me permission to treat them poorly or be a bully. The best way I can influence and motivate my team is through love.
If this is how I treat the people in my office, why would I act any differently with children? If the kids see me yelling at them and treating them unlovingly, it makes perfect sense that they would treat their siblings and peers similarly. I model life principles for them. It’s part of my job as caretaker. If I want them to be leaders who speak with love and compassion, leading with humility and grace, then I need to show them how to do that in the ways I lead them at home.
There are a lot of ways Jesus could have spent His few years of earthly ministry. It’s interesting that the majority of His time was spent pouring into the lives of the 12 men who hung around and followed Him day after day during those years. This was part of His strategy. Jesus was not concerned about programs that might reach the multitude. Instead, He focused on investing in the men whom the multitudes would one day follow and be taught by because it was these men who would take over His work and spread the gospel to the nations.
If I want to be like Jesus, then I need to always be looking for ways to develop the heart of a leader in others. It’s what He did. And it’s one way I can leave generational impact on the world that far exceeds what I’m capable of on my own. Wyatt, Dakota, and Tucker’s futures are still undecided. God will lead them in that as they learn to obey and follow Him. Wherever God leads them, they’ll be prepared to love and lead others well.