Last week, our mat chat topic was “Leadership”. In our discussions with students, we talked about leadership being a process of setting an example and standing up for others. We drew a distinction between leadership and bossiness. This tapped into the previous week’s topic of confidence. Kids quickly saw that leadership comes from confidence, while bossiness comes from arrogance. Students also saw leadership as guiding others in an interactive, respectful way, while being bossy was limited to telling others what to do without listening to them.
The children at TMAA picked up on the fundamental concepts of leadership pretty quickly. So this post will explore four essential areas of leadership that can help your child have a deeper understanding of the topic and how they can build the skills needed for them to become effective leaders.
There are many examples of leadership in the world today, much of which is dysfunctional and divisive. The four areas we will look at point to specifically what is missing in these more destructive approaches. These four areas are service, empathy, team building and integrity.
Service is effort that is applied towards the needs of others. There are many examples these days in politics, business and pop culture of people using their position of leadership and authority to serve themselves. This can have a powerfully corrupting impact not just on the leader and those that serve him/her, but also it can be destructive to people and things that come in contact or are influenced by this corruption.
The corruptive impact of leadership being self-serving comes when the interests of the leader overshadow ethics and morality. By leading with a commitment to serving the led, a leader is able to stay connected to the needs of others and the impacts of his/her choices.
For children, this can be understood by organizing around a desire to help others. This could be as idealistic as community service projects, or as simple as working on an activity that would be fun for all involved.
The next area of leadership is empathy. Empathy ties into having a sense of service and drives the need to serve those who are being led. Empathy creates a deep, emotional connection to the needs of others and makes it so that their needs become your needs. Seeing the suffering of another creates mirrored feelings of suffering in yourself. With those feelings comes the motivation to do something to help that person.
Team building is our next area of leadership. For the sake of team building, we are looking at giving a group of people a shared sense of purpose. Often, groups are assembled because the leader has something the members of those groups want or need. The relationship between leader and led becomes transactional, which can squeeze out empathy from the top along with a sense of service towards those at the bottom. This power imbalance can become destructive to all involved.
Instead, team building can be much more powerful when members of a team are connected and motivated by a common vision. The work itself is inspiring. When this type of organization is created, a leader is less a source of carrots and sticks, and more a source of guidance and support.
The team is inspired by the vision itself and their commitment to its success. The power of leadership comes when a person is able to shape and effectively communicate this vision to the group. The leader is inspirational because the vision they impart is itself inspiring.
The final key to effective leadership is integrity. Central to team building is the imparting of a vision to others. For a leader to truly inspire with their vision, they need to embody the ideals of that vision, to have integrity in those ideals. The integrity of their actions towards making a dream reality demonstrates to others how it is done. Plus, the passion that drives their integrity will be infectious. A leader who is passionate will not only communicate their vision to others, but will communicate her/his enthusiasm.
Depending on the age of your child, these concepts in abstraction may be out of reach. But you can point to examples of leaders who successfully apply these four keys to effective leadership and discuss their impact. You can also point to people whose leadership is either ineffective or destructive and discuss which of the keys above are missing in their approach.