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An Essential Life Lesson: Teaching Leadership to Kids


An Essential Life Lesson: Teaching Leadership to Kids

A few weeks ago I told people that I’m doing a leadership development workshop for a group that is not my usual audience. The oldest person in the crowd will be no more than eleven years old. The youngest? Likely eight. Yup, it’s a leadership workshop for elected leaders at a local primary school. 

When they asked me to come in, I asked them a bunch of questions. 

What are their challenges?


What do they want to get out of our session?

I got little response. 

I tried another approach.

Here are some critical leadership competencies… Where do you want to focus?

In the end, I was told, “Whatever you do will be great. Send us the agenda and overview in advance.”

I’m not a fan of doing work for people who don’t know what they want. Moreover, those same people often know more about what they don’t want only when they see it. Still, I said I’d pull something together. 

My goals were to create an event that was primarily hands on, simple, and filled with lessons that they can carry with them into adulthood. I like the idea of our time together filling up a leadership suitcase that they can carry with them on their travels. Easy peasy. 

In the end, I crafted a workshop with three components:

  1. Identifying your leadership gifts (and appreciating that we ALL bring something different and special to the table – elected title or not.)
  2. Leadership SOS
  3. The power of words

There are a billion places to start when teaching leadership to kids. Also, I’m a firm believer that teaching leadership not only happens in the classroom at school, or for kids elected to the student council, but with their parents at home. (If you’re a parent who wants to help your children tap into their leader within, check out the Parent’s Guide to Leadership)

The one component of my workshop that you may not be familiar with is Leadership SOS

What is SOS?

SOS is a distress signal. When you put out an SOS, help is needed – stat! 

What is Leadership SOS?

There are two parts to Leadership SOS. 

One is hearing and seeing the signal (maybe even before the fire is a nine-alarm) that someone needs help. 

Two is helping. 

Simple, right? Well, maybe not. If you take a poll, and ask employees across organizations and ask if their leadership team sees the need for help before the alarm is raised and everything is about to burn, most would answer “no.” 

Leadership SOS is learning to Speak Up or Stand Up when needed. 

After all, the most powerful question a leader can ask is “How can I help?”

In the workshop, we’re going to do a series of exercises and in one of them, “leaders” are paired with “mates.” The direction to leaders is to make sure that the “mate” gets the assignment done and doesn’t cheat. What happens with adults, is that most of the time the “mate” doesn’t ask for help and the leader doesn’t jump in to help them. They just follow the directions and make sure that the work gets done. Gee, sounds familiar. 

In this exercise, the “leaders” could step up to help, but the “mate” could also ask for what they need.  In fact, they should. 

Becoming a leader is learning to Speak Up or Stand Up for others but also for yourself.

Teaching Leadership – Why It’s Essential to Learn Leaders Speak Up and Stand Up

There are countless reasons why leaders need to speak up and stand up for themselves and others. Teaching kids those lessons helps to remove the stigma and fear with being the one who rocks the boat that so many adults hold near and dear.

Never assume that someone will notice a need just because you did. 

If you never bring your ideas to the table, eventually someone else will.

Someone else may not be as brave as you. 

Wrongs never get made right by looking the other way.

Asking for help is not weak, it’s a sign of strength and a desire to be and do your best.

Leaders don’t run and hide when they see a need, they speak up and stand up.

When the kids leave my workshop, I want them to know that being a leader is a responsibility, not a title or a fancy pin that they get to wear for the school year. Even more important, I want them to know that the school is filled with leaders who didn’t run for office or weren’t elected. They all have unique talents and gifts inside of them that make them a leader. The real gift is helping someone else discover theirs…

Yes, there were a million ways I could have taken my brief time with them but here’s where I landed. What about you? What would you include in a workshop geared to teaching leadership to kids? Would love your thoughts.

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