I was introduced to the topic of leadership at a very young age. Let’s get a few things out in the open. One, I am not an “expert” at parenting, nor should the book, Leadership For Youngsters (LFY), be considered a step-by-step guide to developing leadership traits in your children. Like every other parent, I win some and lose some, but try to help my children in their development to become contributing and well-adjusted leaders every day. Two, I am not a leadership “expert.” I don’t believe they exist. Leadership development can be a life-long journey.
Over the years, I have found myself looking for opportunities to discuss the topic of leadership with my own children because it’s never too early to plant a seed. As a parent, you may have found it as difficult as I have to introduce this vital topic. I remember being around seven years old when I was first exposed to the idea of a leader. It came in the form of a discussion about the NFL. Like many children in the U.S., I was absolutely captivated by football when I was very young. In fact, my passion has found a resurgence in adulthood, and I continue to develop a distinct admiration for the game and the men who lead these “armies” up and down the athletic field.
I often wonder what spurred this obsession, but it is clear now that it was a way to bond with my father, in the same fashion my sons and I now bond around the TV on Sundays, rooting for our champions and becoming impassioned about their successes (if we are extremely lucky) and lamenting their failures.As a young African-American child of the 70’s, it was always easy to identify with the running backs of the NFL. The men who make up this elite group of athletes are largely African-American (a distinction still largely accurate) and come from the same types of environments that many disadvantaged children are raised in throughout America’s urban neighborhoods. For many of them, the NFL will be their ticket to a life of prosperity, and it was in this arena that they too were first introduced to the ideas of leadership and sportsmanship.
In an innocent discussion with my father about my desires for the future, I enthusiastically claimed that I wanted to be a running back in the NFL. I will never forget his response.
First, he applauded me for having some idea as to what I would like to become as an adult. He also told me it would be very hard to achieve this goal and then he stopped me in my tracks with this question and statement: “Why do you want to be the running back? You should want to be the quarterback. He’s the team leader.”
Of course, this was not the exact wording, but it holds closely to the conversation as I remember it. Even at the age of seven, I understood exactly what he was saying.
To this day, my favorite athlete of all time is Roger Staubach, Naval Academy graduate, Navy Veteran, Heisman Trophy winner and Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Through this brief exchange, the die was cast and I began to develop an idea of what leadership meant. The conversation created a question in my mind, which later bore itself into my personality: Why not be the leader?
My father’s analogy was not perfect. I now know the quarterback, while being a principle team leader, is much more like a Captain than a general. The general is the team’s coach. The coach/general examines the landscape and then provides strategic direction to his forces who carry out tactical engagements directed at a common and clear outcome—to prevent the enemy from gaining ground and to score touchdowns—thereby winning the game.
The lesson from my dad took shape and had a significant impact. I credit this conversation with allowing me at many stages of my life, to go my own way; to make decisions based on all the available information present and then move forward with some level of certainty.
LFY is not about achieving perfection in the art of leadership. I have come to believe there is no such level of achievement. Expertise is an often-communicated concept, but it does not exist in the social arts. In my experience, I have seen seasoned leaders achieve both success and experience wildly fantastic failures. Anyone who embraces the discipline of leadership comes to understand the endless nature of its lessons. Although you never quite perfect the practice of leadership, you can embrace the discipline and reflect on the lessons it teaches at the various stages of your life.
LFY is nothing more than an introduction. The start of what is meant to be a nearly lifelong discussion and point of self-reflection on what it means to make decisions for the benefit of others and to be in service to others.Once leadership becomes a core trait of your youngster, they will begin to distinguish themselves among their peers. The lessons discussed and what we learn from these experiences never quite come to an end.
LFY is directed at youngsters (ages 10 - 16), and so I have chosen to discuss leadership in the context of the experiences of a young boy who might resemble your children and their experiences during their formative years. Xavier may or may not look like your child, but I can assure you they are experiencing similar situations in school, on the playing field and in their interactions with friends. These ideas are not gender-specific, as leadership traits can be exhibited by girls and boys alike. Some of the concepts are over-simplified, but I have found that may be all it takes to get the conversation started. It’s not too early to begin these discussions.
Leadership For Youngsters is available via Amazon in both paperback and eBook. Good luck to your youngsters on their journey. Remember, Always be the leader!