The other day, a young friend of mine was asking me how to develop leadership qualities in children.
Leadership qualities form when there is a need felt to shine above all in a group. There must be a group for a leader to be born. When there is a group, there is naturally a conflict of ideas and there is a need for someone to take the lead and present an idea which would satisfy at least the majority in the group, if not all. The next time, a similar conflict arises; all are looking to the same person whose idea satisfied most of them. A leader is born. The leader in turn gets the confidence to put more effort in finding better ideas which could be acceptable to even more.
Usually, leadership quality is inborn. There are children who have this in them to come up with something in any situation. They can express an opinion about everything around them, be it a new toy, a book, a person, a place they visited, the food they ate. They can also learn new things very fast and thus help others understand. When they are very young, it may not be a significant observation as far as the grownups are concerned; still they have something to say is what must be appreciated. When they are in a group, they have this natural quality to lead the team in choosing the activity they would indulge in. They would choose whether they would go out and play or sing and dance or play with the toys. Usually, this leader is accepted by the team very enthusiastically. It is for the elders in the family to nurture this quality in the child, by encouraging him/her and appreciating his/her capability. Saying a few words of praise, taking active part in their activities, teaching them new games and activities go a long way in instilling a confidence in the child that his/her talent is appreciated .
In today's, nuclear families, it is very difficult for a child to show his/her leadership qualities from early childhood, as more often than not he/she is the only child or sometimes the only grandchild and there is no platform for him/her to exhibit his/her leadership qualities. Whatever he/she says or does is accepted without question by the doting parents and grandparents. Only when they start going to school, that they interact with other children of their age and sometimes they are overawed by the number of children they have to spend their time with. Some children actually withdraw into a shell when they cannot speak above the group. Some children just follow others in everything. It is also wrong to think that, the children who follow a leader do not have leadership qualities in them. They are perhaps observing the leader and learning what it takes to reach above the group. It also does not mean that only leaders are the best and followers are second grade. A group can have only one leader and it so often happens that the same group will have different persons who are good at different fields. The leader is only coordinating and bringing cohesion in the group. There cannot be a leader without followers.
It is also true that the leader is under tremendous pressure even from a young age to perform. He/she always has to prove his/her leadership qualities or else others might take his/her position. He/she should be strong enough to take the occasional failures also in his/her stride. The parents of young leaders have a very supporting role to play in moulding their children as well as giving them the moral support and right advice from time to time.
When we observe a group of children we can easily make out this downcast child, who is otherwise the leader. The other day, two children were playing. One of them was able to snap his fingers fast and the other one was not good at it. The second child started sobbing with her father that she was not able to do what the other boy was doing, and it took her father 5 minutes to tell her that she was good at reciting so many rhymes and stories that the other boy was not able to and similarly he was good at something else.
All through the growth of such children, special care should be taken to see that at no point they feel frustrated when they come face to face with other leaders, which happens so very often. They should be taught that just like them there are other leaders who are to be respected and accepted. The leaders also are continuously striving to outshine and they cannot just let go and relax, which puts a serious strain on them. They should be taught that it is alright to falter sometimes or just be average in some fields and they can actually relax and enjoy. This is a very important lesson that every child must be taught.
Leaders, by their inherent exuberance cannot but lead any group they are in. This very often puts them in a very challenging situation, as in an unknown group, they are either instantly liked or disliked. So they should always be careful in expressing their views in strange new groups.
As I very often tell all young parents, it is more difficult bring up intelligent children and children with special abilities. The parents have to be well balanced in their approach of nurturing and encouraging the special abilities of their children and teaching them to take life sportingly and courageously.