I adore kids. Their laughter. Their enthusiasm for life in general, and their singlehanded focus on those things at any given moment that are most important to them. Whether or not we agree with them, kids typically know how to prioritize. What I mean is….they can do it, even when their priorities may be ordered in a way that makes little sense to our adult minds.
I’ve raised two of my own, now high school students with a whole batch of new challenges and hurdles. And every day I learn more about life, leadership, and collaboration from my interactions with them. Mind you, it’s not always a fun lesson, but it provides plenty of fodder for evaluating how I lead others, how I teach leadership to undergraduates and graduate students, how I write about leadership, and how I coach and mentor executives.
Most interesting, although hardly shocking, is how the personalities, styles, and leadership practices of each of my daughters differ from each other. Kaitlyn leads with intensity and an intellectual passion to be a positive influencer on others. Chelsea prefers a more individualistic, yet equally passionate approach that flirts with the innovative fringe.
Now, don’t get me wrong…as with most kids, mine struggle at time to balance leadership with power. The allure of having control and decision making authority over others (particularly peers) is an intoxicating one, and in many instances their leadership attempts backfire on them. Social circles implode. Team effectiveness suffers. Tears are shed. But they don’t give up…at least not usually!
Childhood provides an invaluable laboratory for leadership experimentation, if only we provide the safety net for such attempts. Where we allow children (teens or even younger) to safely try out their leadership, fail miserably, yet reflect on those failures and try again, we begin to change society in small, but demonstrable ways.
It’s interesting how frequently my coaching and teaching involve discussions about the appropriate time to begin evaluating leadership potential and cultivating those future executives who will move our organizations forward. My answer is always the same. It’s NEVER too early. In fact, if you have individuals (children OR employees) whom you have not begun to develop into stronger leaders, you’re already behind the eight ball.
Just as with our interactions with our children, leadership development isn’t a task to begin or simply a process to follow. It’s a constant activity….yes a priority above all else and one that should infiltrate every single moment and interactions. So, whether your followers are high school freshmen or seasoned work veterans, develop their leadership through feedback, experimentation, and constant opportunities to fail. It’s simply never too early!