Leadership. The word alone evokes a surge of emotions during this heated political era. Now, more than ever it is imperative we find ways of inspiring our future leaders.
As we consider those who inspire others and create history we often wonder how they will propel the next generation. Think Kamala Harris becoming the first female vice president of the United States.
Thankfully, there is an increased awareness of the value of cultivating leadership qualities in young children. There are more resources than ever to educate and expose young learners to the beauty in our individual differences. This goes to the diversity of cultures as well.
Many schools have now incorporated character development and leadership skills into their curriculum in the hope of inspiring our future leaders.
“Leadership education can and should take root much earlier than young adulthood. It has the potential to empower students, as early as elementary school, to be active learners and citizens in school and society.” — Kathy Kretman
Why Inspiring Our Future Leaders Is Important
For further insight, I spoke with Mrs. Natalie Wagner, a teacher from Fullbright Avenue Elementary School in Winnetka, California. She expressed the importance of highlighting great leaders and their contributions to inspire our future leaders.
Mrs Wagner got her students to read When I Grow Up…Great Leaders: Kids Like You Who Became Inspiring Leaders by DK. She then asked her students to draw a picture of a leader they admired and write a few sentences to describe them. Further, she asked them to describe the kind of leader they wished to be.
Responses from her kindergarten and first grade students varied greatly. They included historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor. Also popular were everyday community figures like doctors, police officers and teachers. The adjectives commonly used were: kind, brave, and helpful.
Scandals or criminal activities will lower our expectations of trusted leaders. What is clear is that young students hold on to the idealistic values our leaders should embody. This leads to the next question of how we can nurture these qualities and begin inspiring our future leaders.
We discovered many attributes found in great leaders. Included are confidence, plus organizational and speaking skills.
Others can be identified as crucial leadership qualities and include empathy, helpfulness and perseverance.
Empathy Is Inspiring To Our Future Leaders
The Oxford Dictionary definition is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev concluded that babies from 6-18 months may be capable of empathic responses.
With science indicating a capability for empathy early, we need only to cultivate it. As a clinical assessor, I frequently observe children at home, in school, and during recreational activities. This helps me to better understand the influences surrounding their development.
Each setting is ripe with the opportunity to display empathy. Young people are often in a perfect position to notice and respond to the feelings of others. A few observations I made prior to the pandemic come to mind.
In one instance I observed a preschooler making a silly face to cheer up a child who was sad. Another time, I saw a five-year-old sit next to a classmate who was all alone during snack time.
The most touching observation was that of a special needs child who tried to wash the dirt off a fellow student’s snack that fell onto the floor. The snack was Jell-O, so suffice to say, it did not work out. However, the attempts each of these children made is heart-warming and encouraging to see.
We can be role models for children by showing empathy in our simple day-to-day interactions with others. Look to praise their efforts to do the same and you may just find yourself inspiring to future leaders.
Future Leaders Need To Be Helpful
Whether we as adults are aware or not, children notice our actions of helpfulness or neglect. As students from Mrs. Wagner’s class wrote in their journal entries, “helpfulness” is a characteristic of a leader.
Children, regardless of their academic standing, have the capacity to notice acts of helpfulness and practice them. As remote learning limits interactions among classmates, we look to find opportunities in the home that may be inspiring to future leaders.
Parents can instruct, and encourage their children to be helpful in various ways. Indeed, they can help load the dishwasher, take out the garbage or wash the family dog. Why not get them to help a sibling finish an important task.
As a caregiver trainer, I cannot emphasize the importance of praising being helpful.
Inspiring Our Future Leaders To Persevere
While Mrs. Wagner’s students did not list perseverance as a trait of great leaders, we need to be aware of its significance. Many teachers, parents and students are having to pivot through the challenges of remote learning.
As we know, the idea of perseverance may be taught, but the only way it is actually developed is by doing it. More importantly, the way in which we work through difficulties sets an example for our children. We either seek solutions, including asking for help, or we give up.
Children may not fully comprehend the challenges iconic leaders endured. However, we know that no great leader has ever achieved greatness without perseverance and hope.
If the goal is inspiring our future leaders, we need to surround them with proper role models. Ones who remain determined despite obstacles. In doing this, our children will develop the perseverance needed to work through life’s challenges.
As adults, we are all leaders of our children in some capacity. John Quincy once stated, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
We have the opportunity of inspiring our future leaders by demonstrating qualities such as empathy, helpfulness and perseverance.
Maritza (Mitzy) Pardo is a Latin American clinical assessor and CEO for the non-profit Shades of Motherhood Inc. With a Master’s in Education and board certification in Behavior Analyses, her background includes developmental assessments, caregiver, and social skills training as well as educational consulting. She continues to focus her energy on supportive services for both the typical and special needs community.