Advice for parents on developing leadership qualities in children

Experts from Aquinas College and Michigan 4-H provide advice to parents on developing leadership qualities in children.

As the Director of Graduate Management Programs for Aquinas College and instructor for a graduate level course on leadership, Brian DiVita thinks parents would be wise to start thinking about ways to develop skills that would help their children become better leaders – even when they are young. Leadership can be defined in many ways, but at the core, leadership involves the ability to influence others toward achieving a common goal. DiVita says skills essential for good leaders include: the ability to motivate, the ability to be objective and remove emotion when assessing alternatives, adaptive listening skills, the ability to make a dedicated effort to seek out and understand multiple perspectives of an issue, as well as passion, charisma and desire.

DiVita believes one skill lacking in youth today is the ability to set a long-term vision. He says, “You are lucky if you can get many students to think beyond the weekend.” He also says communication skills are critical. “Some students forget that phones can be used beyond texting and email. Young people need to learn how to talk with others – not just text,” said DiVita.

Michigan State University Extension Educator Bethany Prykucki agrees that parents should provide opportunities for their children to learn leadership skills. “Opportunities might include serving as a sports-team captain, student council or government representative, drum major or organizing an event such as a food or clothing drive, or fund raiser,” says Prykucki.

As a former 4-H Youth Educator and now a Leadership Development Educator, Prykucki feels that Michigan 4-H is a great leadership experience for youth as the program concentrates on building communication skills, decision-making and problem-solving skills, conflict resolution and negotiation skills, motivation skills, as well as activities to build self-confidence in participants. Michigan 4-H sponsors several camps and events throughout the year, including the Teen Leadership and Community Change Conference in January 2013 at the Kettunen Center in Tustin, Mich. for youth ages 13 and up.

Parents should keep in mind that youth leadership experiences are different from professional workplace leadership roles, but just as important. It also may take years of practice and not just one leadership experience for youth to hone their skills.

For parents looking for more detailed information, DiVita recommends the book “Youth Leadership: A Guide to Understanding Leadership Development in Adolescents” by Josephine van Linden and Carl Fertman. In addition, there are many different youth leadership organizations. DiVita recommends Youth Leadership International based out of Maryland.

DiVita also says parents play a key role as the central leaders in the life of their child. “I suggest talking with your child about what you think it means to be a leader and how you practice your leadership skills. It is also important to explain to kids that change is normal and we must able to adapt to a variety of situations if we are going to be successful,” said DiVita.

MSU Extension works to help people bring knowledge to life. For more information on MSU Extension’s leadership programs, please visit the MSU Extension website.