Parents play almost an exclusive role in teaching and developing leadership qualities and skills to their children, particularly during the early stages of development.  Indeed, parents often overlook or are unaware of the huge influence they have on their children, for good or for bad.  Parents are their children’s most influential role models and children constantly mimic almost everything that their parents do and say. Hereunder are some of the most important behaviours parents need to focus on.  

Good example:The example parents give to their children is by far the most powerful factor in teaching leadership skills.   Parents must avoid at all cost falling into the trap of the old maxim ‘Do what I say, not what I do’.  From birth onwards children not only observe but inevitably copy the example and behaviour of their parents.  For example, if parents are constantly shouting and screaming, it’s very likely that the young child will shout and scream.  If parents are gentle and kind, it’s likely that the child will be gentle and kind, and so on.   Parents must consistently adhere to the key principles underpinning positive leadership, qualities like honesty, truthfulness, integrity, respect, patience, communication, empathy, positive attitude, etc.  One cannot talk to the child about honesty and integrity while at the same time deliberately skipping pages when reading a bedtime story!!!

This short reflection speaks for itself:

I’d rather see a lesson than, to hear one any day.

I’d rather you walked with me, than to merely show me the way.

The eye’s a better teacher and more willing than the ear,

And counsel is confusing, but example is always clear.

The best of all the teachers are the one who live the creed,

To see good put into action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done,

I can see your hand in action but your tongue too fast may run.

And the counsel you are giving might be very fine and true,

But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.

Good Communication: Parents should always fully explain all decisions they make in relation to their child. Explaining your decisions indicates respect, and it also helps the child to understand the reasons behind decisions. Listening and hearing the child and answering all their questions truthfully and accurately is also important. If you don’t have the time to answer your child’s questions at a particular time, tell the child why you can’t answer at that time but emphasise that you will answer them later, and make sure that you do.    

Play games:Playing games is an ideal opportunity for parents to demonstrate many of the essential principles applying to leadership such as competing fairly and strategically.   Allow the child to set up games, to keep scores. Don’t jump in when the child is struggling, give the child the opportunity to figure things out. Talk about winning and losing and why showing respect on both occasions is equally important.  Playing games is also fun time and learning how to have fun in life is very important for children.

Decision Making:Making good decisions is a crucial strategy for every human being.  Helping the child to make good decisions will have lifelong benefits.  Give the child options as much as possible, what shoes or coats will you wear?, what story will I read to you?  But there is a proviso, they must stick to what they have chosen.  

Problem Solving:Don’t solve your children’s problems for them, allow them the opportunity to solve their own problems.  Of course, help and advise them but don’t solve their problems. Life throws up problems on a regular basis and having the ability to solve whatever problems confront them in life is an essential skill.  When parents solve their children’s problems they are not helping them in the long term. 

Respect:Showing respect is another key factor. And it’s not just showing respect to the child, it also requires parents to show respect to every human being with whom they are in contact.  How parents speak about other people, how they treat other people, etc., are all very significant factors in passing on the key principles of leadership from one generation to the next.

John Lonergan spent 42 years in the prison service, 24 as the most senior officer in the country. Along with many insights to social justice, young people and leadership development, he presents a talk called ” Parenting – the challenges and the rewards”.