These days there is a focus on raising your children to be good at leading. There are plenty of resources on this topic, and it’s really good stuff! However, I’ve noticed that in the push of wanting our kids to be good leaders, we may minimize the importance of making sure they are also good at following. What does “good at following” look like, and how do you teach the traits of a good follower?
Let’s start with what it’s not. You won’t be teaching your child to be a weak-minded individual. On the contrary, they’ll grow up to be confident, they won’t be easily swayed, and they’ll be trusted with leadership roles. In the article Followership: The Other Side of Leadership, John S. McCallum John s. McCallum, ‘Followership: The Other Side of Leadership,’ Ivey Business Journal, Ivey Business School Foundation, Sept/Oct 2013, … Continue reading identifies 8 traits for being good at following: judgement, work ethic, competence, honesty, courage, discretion, loyalty, and ego management. Let’s dig into how to teach and encourage these traits from toddler to teen.
To build skill in judgment, it’s important to identify when to follow the WHO’S and when to follow the WHAT’S. The WHO, overall, is a good person to follow. There may be a time that the WHAT they want you to do is not good to follow along with. A great example is my son’s best friend, who’s generally a good kid, who made the suggestion to sneak out of the house. Which they totally did! The issue was with the WHAT they were doing, not the WHO. When we moved to WI, my son made a friend with a kid who had some troubling issues. After the second occasion of him becoming angry and damaging our home, Dalton was not allowed to hang out with him outside of school. Later in the year, this kid became active in a school club and was selling candy bars. He asked Dalton for his help in selling them. I said yes. Even though the WHO was not a good choice to follow, the WHAT he was doing was. Helping your kids to identify this difference is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lifetime.
When building the skill of work ethic, focus on follow-through and effort, not just the end result. As parents, we can get hung up on the quality of the end result as the determiner of a good work ethic. It’s important to teach kids to follow through on a task that they said they would do and put in their best effort as they do it. When those two things are in play, the result will be good. The quality may not always be the best, but it can be viewed as good because they are learning, trying, getting better at, or practicing something.
Competence is building the skill of not biting off more than you can chew. When we take on more than we are capable of, the consequences we face are usually not being able to follow through, our best efforts being wasted, and feeling defeated. We need to help our children make honest evaluations of their abilities. Encourage them to try new things when others are not depending on them. It’s important that children know that asking for help doesn’t show weakness. Asking for help shows wisdom.
As parents, when we think of raising honest kids, we hammer home the importance of not lying. This is good, but we need to go deeper. Do our homes provide psychological safety? What I mean by that is this: when our kids share their thoughts, opinions, and feelings, do we treat them kindly, or do we make our kids feel “lesser than”? When sharing of thoughts, opinions, and feelings is met with kindness, you foster safety and a place for honesty. When that sharing is met with “you are lesser than,” the result could be that sharing stops completely, or you are only told what you want to hear. Both are forms of dishonesty.
We also need to teach our children how to share thoughts, opinions, and feelings in a kind and respectful manner. A few guidelines to teach are:
- Is sharing happening in the right place?
- Is sharing happening at the right time?
- Is sharing happening with the right person?
Effort in this area has a wonderful payoff. Your relationship with your children will deepen.
After reading the article The Courage to Lead: Activating Four Types of Courage for Success by Cathy J. Lassiter, EdDCathy J Lassiter, EdD, ‘The Courage To Lead: Activating Four Types of Courage for Success,’ TEPSA, Leader Article, TEPSA, May 2017, Vol 30, No 3, … Continue reading, I was surprised by how much courage we exhibit every day and how much courage we miss noticing in others, especially our children. Cathy Lassiter lays out four types of courage, but let’s focus on moral and disciplined courage since these two can be developed from an early age. Moral courage is defined as standing up and acting when injustice occurs, according to research published in the Journal of Positive PsychologyGreitemeyer, Fischer, Kastenmueller & Frey. (2006). Civil courage and helping concepts, and measurement. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 115-119.. Disciplined courage is defined by Lassiter as staying steadfast in the face of setbacks and failures for the greater good. Our children face challenges every day. We have plenty of opportunities to develop these traits, and it’s rather simple to implement this development. Take notice of these types of courage in yourself, your kids, and others. When you see or hear about your child standing up for a friend, let them know that they showed courage. Share with your kids when you had to stand for something at work and let them know it took courage. When your child chooses to skip an outing and finish homework, tell them that they are courageous. When you achieve a goal, share the setbacks and the courage it took to continue. Every day is an opportunity to celebrate the courage we see in our children and ourselves!
If we’re honest with ourselves, our lack of discretion or “spilling the beans” is because we want to speak unkindly about someone, or we want others to know that we are “in the know.” Simply put, selfish motivation is behind our indiscretion. Teaching discretion is achieved by asking an accountability question. When your kiddos have to tell you something, ask them, “Are you saying this to be unkind or to be helpful?”. Teaching kids to evaluate their motives before speaking is a skill that will not only teach discretion but emotional intelligence as well.
In my opinion, the trait of loyalty is losing its value in our society. I have seen acts of disloyalty too easily reasoned away. How do you start teaching loyalty as a valued trait to your children? It starts with teaching loyalty to family and commitments. Loyalty is prioritizing giving of your time and energy to those who provide and care for you. Another form of loyalty is giving time and energy to a commitment before giving time and energy to a fun activity. For example, your child makes sure to complete chores before hanging out with friends, or they choose to work on a school project with their partner instead of going with friends to a movie. Take a moment to acknowledge that they chose loyalty. Also, take the time to have them stop and evaluate if their choices will be loyal or disloyal.
We have all told our kids to clap for their teammates or for a sibling at a ball game. I also remember telling my son to be happy for those who received an award when he didn’t. We all want our kids to be able to keep their egos in check. I’ve found one surprising practice that can greatly impact ego management: random acts of kindness. Providing opportunities to help and show kindness without any acknowledgment is the best way we can help our kids to keep their ego in check.
As you can see, all of these traits that make for good followers are also traits we want to see in good leaders. That’s because good leaders are also good followers. Good followers become good leaders because it’s all connected. You, as the parent leading your child, have the unique and wonderful opportunity to instill these traits in your child.
In the area of teaching Followership, you’re about to start winning!
|↑1||John s. McCallum, ‘Followership: The Other Side of Leadership,’ Ivey Business Journal, Ivey Business School Foundation, Sept/Oct 2013, https://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/followership-the-other-side-of-leadership, (accessed 6 November 2020).|
|↑2||Cathy J Lassiter, EdD, ‘The Courage To Lead: Activating Four Types of Courage for Success,’ TEPSA, Leader Article, TEPSA, May 2017, Vol 30, No 3, https://www.tepsa.org/resource/the-courage-to-lead-activating-four-types-of-courage-for-success, (accessed 6 November 2020).|
|↑3||Greitemeyer, Fischer, Kastenmueller & Frey. (2006). Civil courage and helping concepts, and measurement. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 115-119.|