The leadership challenge for parents and teachers


I am reading a great book right now, The Leadership Challenge. It is written by James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner.  Mr. Kouzes is a leadership scholar and executive educator.   Dr. Posner is a professor of leadership at Santa Clara University in California.  He has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and administrative theory.  Together they researched what it takes to be a great leader.  They determined that there are 5 exemplary practices of leadership;

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart

These are the very same practices that parents and teachers should aim to excel at.  Children are born wanting to be loved, accepted and respected, but the rest we have to teach them.  As leaders, we need to realize that we need to spend enough time for each child to learn how to reciprocate those same desires to others.

First we need to model, frequently and clearly at all times what love looks and feels like. The same goes for acceptance and respect.  We have to remember that we are the most influential models children have until adolescence when they look to their peers more than to us.  It is embarrassingly funny when a preschooler swears just like dad when he hits his thumb, but it is not what we want him to do. It may mean that we have to look more closely at how we approach situations, how we react and respond, and how we demonstrate our emotions.  We may have to do some changing so that we are doing “what we tell our child to do” not the opposite of what we do.

A child will respond with more acceptance when he can share your vision.  But you have to know how to market that vision.  It shouldn’t be marketed as a chore or responsibility that he has to get used to.  Rather it should be a collaboration so that the two of you can do something together sooner.  There also needs to be the respect to the child that if he makes the choice not to collaborate, he is choosing to forgo the shared activity  due to a lack of time.

A child doesn’t always understand why something has to be done a certain way.  You can create collaboration by agreeing to challenge the process and think of other ways that may also achieve the same outcome.  At the end, together you can evaluate  if the alternative way  was as successful in job completion, time needed, and amount of difficulty. This will instill ownership of outcomes and allow the child to feel that you respected his questions and need to check things out. This will allow him to use the same behaviors with you, which is showing you the same respect that you modeled for him.

There are times when you would rather do things yourself because your child is too slow, not capable enough, or not old enough to participate.  In the mode of acceptance and respect, however, you need to allow him the time to do the task so that he can become faster, if he is slow because he is still mastering the skill.  If he is not yet capable, you can have him  repeat after you or put your hand over his hand as you push, pull, or do some of the steps.  The same applies to not old enough, with an explanation that the later steps of an activity are reserved for people of a certain age due to size, motor skills, or the law.  Sometimes it is okay to stretch the law reason, since it makes the legal system the bad guy, not you, thus decreasing arguments.  As kids get to be adolescents they may actually do this in a manner by having you be the “law” as to why they can’t do something that their peers are pushing them to do.  This happened several times at my house, where my teens told me that if anyone asked, I had grounded them, which is why they couldn’t do an activity or go someplace.

Encouraging the heart encompasses all three of the desires of newborns – love, acceptance, and respect. It means modeling and encouraging your child to do things for others because everyone deserves assistance, kindness, and friendship.  This also means teaching them how to understand those who don’t reciprocate the three desires and not go to their level of behavior or get taken by them.

Following the 5 practices are great for business executives but they shouldn’t be limited to them.  As parents and professionals, we all have the ability and the responsibility to utilize these practices in our encounters with children and adolescents each and every day. So now would be a good time to start.  Model and they will copy you.

If you are interested in the Leadership Challenge, click here: The Leadership Challenge, 4th Edition

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