The Leadership Factor

I've been thinking a bit about leadership and about when and how leaders emerge. When I look around, leaders just seem to be there, fully developed and leading. It's nearly enough to tempt me into believing in magic. But when did those folks show up and how did they become leaders?

I checked around to see what people who think about that sort of thing have to say about it. Guess what? They all have opinions but don't know for sure. There's the school of thought that says that leaders are born. The baby has leader traits and characteristics that only need maturation and appropriate socialization. In time and if the environment is right, a new leader will emerge.

There's another school of thought that says that most everyone has the potential to become a leader. Whether that happens depends on situational and circumstantial factors that are somewhat unpredictable. For many people, the situation and circumstances are never quite right to bring out the leader within them. For many other folks, events and circumstances converge to make leadership more or less inevitable. The leader is the right person, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time.

Sure, there are even more schools of thought about the when and how of leadership. Perhaps you have some thoughts about that yourself. If so, you are invited to share them with us. Just drop a note to The Editor will review your idea and let you know about its publication as an article or an ebook. But that isn't exactly what I am focused on today.

Today, I'm musing about children and leadership. It seems obvious that a child can only become a leader if he (or she) has leadership potential. I'm not exactly sure what that is but it likely is a little extra something that the child has more of than most other children. Let's call it The Leadership Factor.

Alternatively, The child may not have more of The Leadership Factor than other children. Instead, he has the same amount but it has been nurtured and supported, cultivated and enriched, valued and rewarded. The result is that The Leadership Factor is more fully developed for the child than for his peers.

For those of us who have responsibilities for children, there is an interesting challenge. We have the opportunity to support and encourage The Leadership Factor in each child with whom we spend time. Maybe it's something extra that a few children have or a potential that is there for most children. Either way, it's there and it's up to us to be sure that the potential is realized.

Here's the problem. The only way to know for sure if a child has The Leadership Factor is to wait and see if he becomes a leader. In the mean time, though, there are some things we can and should do.

We know that leaders are role models for others. They set the pace for their followers in terms of attitudes, values, and behavior. People follow the example the leader sets.

Our job: We need to help children understand that a positive, constructive attitude is important and makes a difference to us and to how successful they will be at whatever they choose to do. We need to help children understand what's important and what really matters. What they value directly affects what they do and who they become. We also need to assure that they think about their behavior and that they behave appropriately wherever they are and with whomever they are with. Their attitudes, values, and behavior matter. Being sure they stay on the right track with all three is our job.

We know that leaders are good idea generators and social facilitators. When with other people, leaders have good ideas about what to do, how to solve problems, and how to handle things that come up. Over time, others come to look to the leader for ideas and value his opinions. Beyond that, people are comfortable with the leader, like having him around, and depend on him to encourage and facilitate relationships, social activities, and group interaction. People are more productive and get along better when he is there.

Our job: We need to value and encourage children's ideas, thought processes, suggestions, and perceptions. Instead of telling children what to do and how to do it, asking them what they are going to do and how they will do it encourages their development as idea generators. To the extent we can and whenever we can, we need to encourage children to tell us what they think, to use their judgment, to express their views, and to generate ideas.

We also need to help them develop social facilitation skills. Here, it's important not to overlook the obvious. Speak clearly and look at people when you are talking with them. Be alert and listen when others are talking. Good manors are a must and treating everyone with respect and kindness are essential. Don't ignore anyone and make an effort to include everyone, even those people who are somewhat marginal to the group. Treat people like you want to be treated. The list goes on, but we know what it takes. We need to teach these important social elements to children and assure that their skills develop over time.

THE FRIEND FACTORY and THE YES BANK are books that teach young children about many of the elements that are included in The Leadership Factor. Whether you choose those books for children for whom you are responsible is, of course, up to you. However, whether you make a difference for each child in terms of The Leadership Factor is not up to you. You will make a difference. The issue for each of us is whether the difference we make nurtures and cultivates The Leadership Factor in the child or dampens and eventually extinguishes whatever leadership potential the child has.

Perhaps this is the key to success. Each time we interact with a child, we should ask ourselves this question. 'Am I encouraging or discouraging The Leadership Factor for the child, right now?' We are always doing one or the other. Only if we consistently encourage The Leadership Factor in children can we be sure that we have done our job: we have done what we can do to help the child actualize his (or her) leadership potential.

By Gary Crow March 23, 2017