Some people are born leaders. They take control of difficult situations with confidence. They inspire others naturally. And it all seems to come so easily.
But research has shown that the leadership abilities that appear to be inborn traits can actually be developed and nurtured during childhood:
- Researcher Carl Brungardt found in 1997 that leadership skills, “like the ability to work with others, self-confidence, and assertiveness can emerge from childhood experiences.”
- Two leadership experts wrote in 2007, “Although important leadership skills develop through one’s life, many of these skills and talents begin to develop at a much earlier age than where our society tends to focus the majority of leadership development efforts.”
How can you help your child build leadership abilities during his formative middle school years? Here are a few suggestions from Lulu Kellogg, Middle School Head at The Fessenden School.
1. Help him find opportunities to work with younger children.
Middle schoolers often feel “betwixt and between,” Lulu says. They’re not quite old enough to do the things they really want to do and yet they’re not quite young enough to be the baby of most groups. So when they have the opportunity to be the older, experienced ones, for a change, they relish it.
“You could find leadership opportunities for your child with younger siblings, cousins, neighborhood kids, or sometimes younger classes in school, in church, or in temple,” Lulu suggests. “Sometimes libraries are looking for middle schoolers to come in and read out loud to the younger kids.”
Lulu has seen this work well at The Fessenden School.
“Our middle school boys have lunch with our kindergartners and read picture books with them, and they love it,” she reports. “The kindergarten students love it too. They shout, ‘Oh, there’s my reader!’ when they see them in the hall.”
2. Encourage him to lead from behind the scenes.
Leaders rarely start at the top, as you may have experienced in your own life as a professional, volunteer, or community member. Frequently, leadership begins by simply being willing to serve, to “lend a hand,” when a hand is needed.
“I’m always interested in boys who lead by volunteering or staying to help after an event and pick up. Or boys who are willing to serve on a committee that needs help, but they’re not going to be the one in charge of it,” Lulu says. “They’re not running for office, but those are the boys that are going to move the world some day. The ones who just think, ‘What needs to be done in a situation? I can do it.’”
3. Search for a middle school that gives all students a chance to lead.
At The Fessenden School, for example, every sixth grader leads the middle school’s morning meeting at least once, “and sometimes,” twice a year.
“I help them script it; they orchestrate it. They get up front. They hold the microphone. They make sure it runs according to schedule,” Lulu describes. “And as teachers, we just sit and watch. We don’t feel like we need to orchestrate it because we have confidence the sixth graders will be leading.”
Other ways to nurture leadership skills in 12-year-olds