Are leadership skills the result of the traits with which we are born, the lessons our parents teach us, the friends by which we surround ourselves, or the mentors who help guide us through life? As parents, we all seek that perfect equation to help our children achieve ultimate success and fulfillment in life. But the truth is there’s no magic solution. Each child is unique, and it is important for us to bring out the best in each child and show them they can achieve success in many different ways.
Many times, we think about success as a pathway to leadership. As a person achieves more success, they take on more complex leadership roles. But what if you think about it from another viewpoint? Teach children effective leadership skills and how to be confident in their own choices and decisions now, and they will only achieve success in life.
While my own childhood was filled with amazing examples of leadership, some of the most impactful life lessons I’ve learned are the ones through my work with Forever Freckled. FF has provided my sisters and me opportunities to meet incredible women who are leaders in their perspective fields and who inspire others. With every meeting, summit, and partnership, we learn a little more about what it takes to successfully make an impact on others and how to effectively empower our children with confidence and teach them important leadership skills.
Julie Foudy on What Traits Make a Great Leader
There are some people in this world who truly make a mark on your life. People you meet, even for a brief moment, who not only teach you something new, but impact the way in which you live your life. For me, one of those people is Julie Foudy. Julie is a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist. She played for the United States women’s national soccer team, finished her international career with 271 caps, and served as the team’s co-captain and later captain. She founded the Julie Foudy Leadership Academy and recently launched a podcast called Laughter Permitted.
I had the pleasure of meeting Julie in Washington at the #TalkEarly Summit a few months ago*. As a partner with Responsibility.org and a member of the #TalkEarly Team, I hope to guide parents through raising respectful leaders who make responsible decisions about alcohol and life. Being a mother of two girls and a force of nature on the soccer field, Julie’s words and advice at the summit truly inspired me. She has had a profound impact on how I choose to raise my own children to be leaders. So I want to share with you the three biggest lessons I learned from Julie on leadership, raising strong leaders, and empowering our children to be confident while making responsible decisions.
*You can check out a video from the summit at the end of this post!*
1. Identify personal leadership traits. “Leadership is personal, not positional.”
One of the most defining moments of Julie’s talk was when she said, “Leadership is personal, not positional.” Many of us think of a leader as being the captain of the football team, the class president, or a valedictorian. However, being a leader is not about a specific role or position or even about being in the spotlight or in charge. A leader is simply someone who inspires or motivates an action in others.
The idea of being a leader can be intimidating to many kids. Perhaps they think they need to be loud, opinionated, always eloquent in their words, or outgoing. But at the #TalkEarly Summit, Julie taught us that leadership qualities come in many shapes and sizes. In fact, she noted that Mia Hamm was a quiet leader and that mixing different leadership styles within her team helped them achieve their goals. We must teach leadership skills based on a child’s unique qualities and personality traits.
Julie also stressed the idea that leadership is not just about confidence or leading naturally, it is also about being a good listener. As parents, we can model this point by listening to and engaging with our children while confidently guiding them to find their own voice. Leadership styles also evolve and change over time. Encourage your children to be true to themselves. Teach extroverted children that their energy and exuberance will naturally inspire others. Show introverted children how a quiet, hands-off approach allows others to take charge of their own decisions.
The bottom line is that there are many ways to be an effective leader. Our job is to help our kids identify their personal leadership traits. Eventually, confidence and leadership skills will help guide them as they are faced with tough, adult choices, including making responsible choices about alcohol.
2. Don’t be scared to let them lose.
We live in a world where fitting in and acceptance is not only important, it can be paralyzing. Social media has created an obsession with perfection. Our children view getting “likes” and being accepted as important from a very early age. However, true success is not about acceptance but about making a difference. Julie led a discussion on girls wanting to “check every box” before speaking up, but that mentality can set them back. Instead of focusing on perfection, our children need to have the courage to put themselves out there.
But this vulnerability leads to potential losses. But who hasn’t experienced the pain of defeat or failure? Our ultimate goal is to provide our kids with the necessary tools to overcome obstacles and failures. Use children’s experiences with defeat to teach them to become stronger. Lessons can be learned from almost any experience. It is our responsibility to use negative experiences in a positive way to guide and teach our children.
Growing up, my father taught me that anything is possible as long as you work hard. When a child experiences defeat, it is an opportunity to teach him or her the importance of hard work, dedication, persistence, and the will to succeed. Ask your child what they can improve upon before the next game or test. Help them establish realistic goals and create a plan to achieve those goals.
3. Let children be who they are.
Perhaps this message from the #TalkEarly Summit resonated with me the most. Julie talked about her upbringing. She jokingly told us that her teammates knew her parents as the ones who never came to games. In fact, when her parents did make it to a game, the team joked about them actually attending. She told this story in an upbeat, laughing manner and went on to explain that her parents’ laid back supportive nature allowed her and her siblings to foster their individual passions and personalities.
My own parents raised us in very much the same way. They never influenced or persuaded us to choose certain sports, activities, or career choices. While fully supporting our choices, they took a very laid back approach, allowing us to enjoy the things we loved. This approach allowed each of us to take ownership over our individual choices and become successful on our own terms.
Our society, at times, makes parenting out to be a competitive sport, forcing us to become overly involved in our children’s activities and the choices they make. But ultimately, our children have their own lives to lead. We need to guide them with honesty and good core values, and let them pave their own roads. As parents, we should go along for the ride with our children, not choose a path for them.
Final Thoughts on How to Teach Leadership Skills to Children
As important as it is to give our children the lessons and traits to achieve success and leadership, it is equally as important, if not more, to give our children the skills to make responsible decisions. In today’s world of social media, children are exposed to drinking, drugs, and sex earlier than ever before. It is inevitable that our children will be faced with difficult decisions and peer pressure at some point, and that point may happen much earlier than you expect. Establish a safe relationship with your child, so they feel secure in coming to you with their problems, questions, and concerns.
April is Alcohol Responsibility Month. The leadership skills you teach your children will translate into their ability to combat the pressures they will soon be under. Most importantly, we also need to give kids the right messages regarding stress management and responsible alcohol consumption to help them make informed and confident decisions. I can’t stress enough the immense importance of starting the conversation early. I strongly urge every parent to speak with their kids this month about alcohol, making wise decisions, being responsible leaders for their peers, and how to handle stress in healthy ways. If you need conversation starters or other resources, check out Responsibility.org!
I am proud to be a #TalkEarly blogging ambassador for Responsibility.org. This is a Sponsored Post! While I have received compensation, all opinions are my own.