We need to prepare kids today for standout leadership tomorrow.
Leaders who are capable of guiding organizations through the turmoil of dramatic economic change, serving employees with higher “ME” expectations, rising demands of social responsibility, insatiable investor demands and technological change showing no limits and no signs of slowing down.
I believe the principles and practices espoused by today’s leadership academics and pundits generally fall short in terms of guiding leaders to meet the critical challenges organizations face in these uncertain times. And a point of concern is that some experts have limited experience “in the field” leading complicated organizations, yet their views punctuate the list of credentials, skills and experience necessary for effective leadership.
Practical leadership teaching is required.
It’s time to take the task of leadership development to ground zero and teach kids the practical basics of leadership.
These 5 actions can be taken by family members and teachers alike to sow the seeds for our future leaders.
Ask “What do you think?” in the face of a problem. Rather than resort to taking control and dictating the solution, we must engage kids more actively in the problem solving process. And they must feel comfortable suggesting an approach that is not prescribed by the text books — thinking beyond the constraints of standards and tradition is a competency that must be encouraged. Organizations need more problem solvers who come up with original and creative solutions, not individuals who blindly comply with traditional scripture.
Encourage kids to create art as opposed to deciphering a formula and “colouring inside the lines” perfectly. Business is not formula driven and is often extremely messy; more often than not the most inelegant and imperfect solutions are the only ones that work in a world of politics and individual bias. We need our kids to expand their thinking beyond the box of established methodology and explore non-traditional and often controversial approaches to deal with the challenges they face. For example, encourage them to consider going in the opposite direction to the most common approach and see what happens.
Push kids to define more than one way to handle a problem. A plan rarely turns out the way it was intended in any organization; we need leaders who are adept and comfortable with coming up with a variety of responses that can be drawn upon when the original one falls short of expectations. Ask “what else might work?” to encourage a conversation around alternate solutions to a problem rather than focusing on just one. And insist that they try more often; have a go at a problem from many different perspectives. Success in the real world is rarely achieved in a single attempt; the more tries made, the more likely the winner will be discovered.
Look for differences
Expose and develop the differences in our kids rather than trying to get them to conform with others and comply with the accepted norms and rules of society. The problem I see when chatting with new grads and young professionals is that most of them “look” the same. They have similar academic skills, their résumés use the same boilerplate template, they don’t know what makes them special and they have no idea how to compete with others who are vying for the same opportunities. The challenge for every person is to find a persona that no one else possesses. Stand out. Be noticed. Moms need to be on the lookout for how their kid is different from others rather than how they are the same. Pay attention to what separates them from the pack and not the similarities that define their conformity.
Reward breakaway behaviour
Develop their independence by challenging our kids with “Why do you care what others think?” It’s not that you want to support deviant behaviour that has negative consequences on someone else, but raising kids based solely on the views and expectations of others won’t motivate innovation and creativity. Inhaling the perceptions and biases of another individual simply creates a clone of them; individual identity is lost. At an early age we need our kids to breakaway from the shackles imposed by herd mentality so leaders are created by the new ideas they have not how efficiently they conform to the expectations of others.
There is, of course, a huge need for our schools to morph from a compliance centric culture where kids are thought to follow the rules, to one that recognizes and rewards kids who are willing to take the risk to step beyond normal expectations. I’m not sure that I’ll see this transformation in my lifetime but one can always hope.
It’s on us
We should take personal responsibility to nurture our kids to grow up with future leadership potential and not continue to delegate the responsibility to the system to do it for us.
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