Every child is a leader in waiting, although not everyone sees it that way.

Leadership in families is usually bestowed on the eldest child. We expect more from first borns than from children in any other position.

Responsible, goal-setter, rule keeper and achievement-orientation are some of the characteristics shared by first borns.

And yes, these are all characteristics we typically apply to leaders.

Each child, regardless of their position, has leadership potential in spades. It just needs to be recognised, brought out and built on for their leadership potential to turn into reality.

And leadership will inevitably be thrust on kids in adulthood, so best they’re prepared for it so they can take the leap when the chance comes.

What a waste of potential if they let the leadership chance slide by!

So how can bring out your child’s leadership potential? What can you do to nurture the leader in your child? How can you lead your child into leadership?

These seven strategies will start you on the path of developing your child’s innate leadership potential.



1.     Develop a leadership mindset 

As an adult you’ve probably experienced the power of mindset.

For instance, if you develop a fitness mindset- that is, you think like a fit person thinks– physical activity will soon become second nature.

You’ll take the stairs, not the lift because that’s what a physically fit person does. You’ll walk swiftly, rather than meander.

You’ll eat healthily as good diet and physical fitness go hand in hand. Pretty soon physical fitness becomes part of your identity, so physical activity and healthy eating become un breakable patterns rather than habits.

Encourage kids to think like leaders by introducing the language of leadership into family-life. Use simple, two-word terms related to leadership characteristics such as teamwork (“Work together”), presentation skills (“Speak out”), emotional intelligence (“Tune in”) and Responsibility (“Be accountable”).

Then focus on broader aspects of leadership such delegation, problem-solving and integrity by using phrases such as:

“Share the jobs around.”

“This is a problem you can solve.”

“Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

If you think your child is ready and old enough, challenge them to approach different situations with a leadership mindset. “How would a leader think and act in a game of sport?” “How would a leader think if they made a mistake?” “How would a leader treat a friend who is struggling at school?”

Leadership tip: Incorporate the language of leadership into your family’s proprietary language.


2.     Develop agency

My daughter organised her own six month student exchange to Denmark, at the age of fifteen. We live in Australia, so that was quite a feat!

My wife and I insisted she organise the trip (with some assistance from us when required) as we needed to know that she had sufficient agency to get by on the other side of the world, for such a long time without her parents.

She did! It was a memorable, life-shaping experience.

Her sense of agency just didn’t miraculously happen.

From a young age she was given a great deal of agency and control over her own life. As a prep student most days she prepared her own breakfast. At the end of primary school she cooked an evening meal once a week and she made her lunch each day when she started secondary school.

Her siblings followed suit.

When you develop kids’ agency not only are you developing their independence, but you are developing the core competencies of leadership including problem-solving, resourcefulness, confidence and resilience.

Leadership strategy: When kids can, let them do.


3.     Give them real responsibility

Here’s a question some parents find uncomfortable answering, particularly if their child is over three years of age:

“What does your child do that someone else relies on?”

Hopefully, your child helps at home without being paid so that they learn to contribute to the family good.

And hopefully those jobs add real value – the garbage is emptied, dishwasher stacked, pets are fed – so that kids learn that their contribution is an integral part of family-life.

And they’re not rescued if they forget or neglect to do their chores. For instance, an evening meal isn’t put on the table, until the knives and forks are put on the table. Now who’s job is that?

Real leadership is about accountability which starts at home.

Leadership strategy: Place chores on a roster, which shifts responsibility to kids to remember them.


4.     Make the most of mealtimes

Regular shared family mealtime offers a brilliant opportunity to develop the leaderships characteristics of sharing, teamwork, and communication skills.

Food and conversation are shared, and everyone has a stake in the meal process, whether it’s cooking, getting some ingredients from the pantry, setting the table, taking away dishes and the like.

Okay, not every child will participate willingly and at times there may be arguments but to the best of your ability focus on making mealtimes memorable rather than simple refuelling exercises.

Leadership tip: Ask your kids, “Who did you help at school today?”


5.     Encourage community volunteering

Leadership is about contribution and serving others. It’s not about power, being captain of the team or the boss of others.

Volunteering their time and effort to assist others is a great way for kids to develop a ‘benefit’ mindset, where they think ‘we’ rather than ‘me.’

In my student leadership work in primary schools, it’s evident that those students who’ve volunteered their time to help others (by putting out the bins for an elderly neighbour, helping through Scouting, or helping pick up rubbish on Clean Up the Community Days) have huge head starts in the leadership stakes.

Leadership tip: Volunteer your time and effort in some capacity so you model contribution to your child.


6.     Stand back to let leaders in

As a child did you ever set up a stall to sell lemonade, biscuits or some such thing?

If so, you showed real initiative by getting off your backside and trying to make a dollar or two.

Sometimes as parents we need to stand back and allow kids to use their initiative, rather than parent down, worrying about the risks.

Leadership for kids, like leadership for adults takes many forms. It’s up to us to recognise leadership when we see it and allow kids the opportunity to test themselves, build their capacities and their resilience.

Leadership tip:  Ask your child if there’s a project that they’d like to do. If so, work with them to make it happen.


7.     Cometh the environment, cometh the leader

As a teacher I took many classes away on school camp and I never ceased to be amazed how the most unlikely students would step up as leaders on camp. Many times, I experienced a quiet student in the classroom who would become the most capable student leader when on camp.

When the situation suited, the leader emerged.

The same phenomenon happened on the sporting field. So often kids who hold back in the classroom stepped up and became influential leaders in sport because they’ve found the environment that suited their strengths and personality.

As a parent provide a variety of experiences in different environments to allow your child to find their true leadership north.

Leadership tip: Work with your child to identify the types of activities and environments where they’re most likely to shine


A final word…or two

Some of you may be thinking leadership is okay for some kids, but it’s not for every child.

What about neuro-diverse kids or those with extra needs? Can they be leaders too?

Hopefully, no one asked that question of Steven Hawking, Stevie Wonder or Helen Keller as kids!

They are each world leaders in their various fields.

Every child has leadership potential. It takes a loving, patient adult to bring it out.


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