“Leadership is the most intensely personal thing in the world, because it is just plain you” (Field Marshall Sir William Slim, 1957)
I like this quote by Sir Bill, as it suggests that leadership is not something you can just ‘learn’, a skill to be used occasionally when the need arises. Leadership is a ‘projection of your personality’, a trait that is part of you and unique to you. What is the best way to improve your leadership skills? Experience. Try new things, expose yourself to challenging situations and see how you react; in time you will learn how you react and understand your leadership style better. You will not only become a better leader, but will also become a well-rounded individual in the process.
Leadership is a term often associated with warfare or politics, but it is just as easily identified in our day-to-day lives. Whether it is the captain of your sports team always motivating the team to success or your parents letting you try something even though they know they’d do it better; these are examples of everyday leadership. The trick to encouraging leadership skills is to approach it as a slow process, not one to rush, and to learn from your mistakes. How can you encourage leadership in children?
Before becoming a leader, everyone needs to find their voice and learn how to express themselves. In a parent-child relationship, the child will naturally be the follower (most of the time!), and being a good follower is the best way to become a good leader in the future. Good followers question the decisions of the leader and challenge them when they need to be.
What can you do? Try to include your child in your decision-making process, simply by asking “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” These questions encourage them to express themselves and gain confidence in their opinions. Chances are, their insights will surprise you.
Learn to Act Decisively
Being able to make decisions under pressure is a key trait in a leader and often the hardest to prepare for.
What can you do? A fun game that my father used to play with me was ‘Sunday Driving’. My father and I would go for a drive on a Sunday and I would be able to choose the direction (Left, Right or Straight on). Although at first, I let him choose the direction for me, after a while I became more confident and was soon deciding quickly and confidently.
Reflect and Improve
Arguably the most important trait for a leader to have is the ability to pick themselves back up and try again. Although it is often hard, the best way to improve is to sit down and work through what happened in a situation (a lost football game, exam etc.) and identify what you would do differently next time.
What can you do? Showing resilience and being able to reflect and improve are skills that come with a level of maturity. If your child can do this already, then brilliant, if not, occasionally reflecting on times you tried but failed and why, could be a good start.
It’s important to recognise that leadership is a trait that doesn’t appear overnight. It takes a long process of learning what does and doesn’t work for you and is shaped by your experiences, so the more you have, the more opportunity you have to learn. Overall, try to learn from your mistakes and reflect upon your own leadership style, after all “it is just plain you”.
Below are a few links to get you thinking about your leadership style:
- Potential Plus UK Advice Sheet PA705 Developing Leadership Skills
- Intent-based Leadership: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqmdLcyES_Q&t=0
- The Art of Followership: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQo-1qlKUBE
- A funnier leadership lesson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ
About the author: Ben Ramsden has been a Potential Plus UK member/volunteer/trustee since 2003. Following time as chairperson of the Potential Plus UK Youth Board, he became a trustee 2013-2016. You can read more about this in his blog: 4 Ways That Being A Trustee Of Potential Plus UK Set Me Up For Success – Ben Ramsden . Since then he’s begun a career that involves not only leading others but teaching others about leadership and management.