The latest research has shown that early exposure to leadership opportunities can have significant impact on a young girl’s confidence and future. Like practicing playing an instrument or a sport, our girls need to build their leadership muscles through practice in order to get better at it. Your home is the perfect safe environment to help your daughter flex her leadership muscles.
Sure, sleep away camps, adventure trips, after-school classes and sports teams are great avenues for building leadership skills, but we too often rely on outside influences to grow our daughters’ self-esteem when we can easily create leadership opportunities at home.
The principle behind leadership with a little “l” at the Girls Leadership League is teaching girls to first lead themselves in order to become a great leader for others. We want girls to build confidence by learning how to identify and ask for what they need — the most important aspect of leading oneself.
To help your daughter grow these skills, first identify what characteristics you think constitute a leader. Things like creativity, honesty, trustworthiness, cooperation, communication skills, curiosity, decision making, organization and people skills.
Does that list look a little intimidating? Maybe. But I want to help you break it down into bite-size pieces so that you, in the course of your normal life, can teach your girl essential leadership skills.
Honesty, trustworthiness and humility are traits that will take time for a young person to develop. Be patient and gentle when guiding your girl through these lessons. Help her identify “white lies” without a soapbox lecture. Show her, in private, how bragging is unflattering and hurtful to others if you catch her being a “sore winner.” Follow through on your promises to her so she can see what trustworthiness looks like.
Cooperation with others will be key to being part of a team — in sports or academics now, and later in her professional life. The role of a leader is not to have all the ideas, but to create an environment where everyone can have ideas and feel comfortable sharing them. Assign your girl a project (a family dinner, maybe) that requires cooperation with the rest of the family to complete. Let her take charge and delegate.
Communication skills mean learning how to talk respectfully and with clarity when asking others for what she needs. Mirror for her the importance of listening and then reflecting back what she has heard. You can practice these skills easily in your everyday life as communication is always happening. Explain to her why passive and aggressive communication styles are not going to serve her interests or get her what she wants.
Verbal communication is not the only language that is important. Body language tells others just as much as spoken words. Teach your daughter the leadership stance — strong body positioning, direct eye contact and a firm tone of voice. All these elements convey that she is confident, strong and takes the situation she is discussing seriously.
Curiosity and a hunger to learn are seeds of creativity. Even if you were glad to get out of the “Why?” stage of toddlerhood, encourage your daughter to bring it back in a more age-appropriate way. Don't suppress her curiosity, indulge it! Talk through her questions and find the answers with her. Let her know that you are impressed that she wants to know more. Tuning into the things she is curious about may be how she finds her true passions.
Decision making skills are essential to great leaders who are comfortable making decisions and know that there is often some risk involved. They also know that the ability to make a swift decision is key, and that you can bounce back from almost any wrong choice. Talk through your decision making process with your girl — whether you rely on pro/con lists or intuition. Let her know that everyone makes a wrong choice sometimes and that there might be consequences, but that shouldn't cause her to fear making a choice, but rather to hone her own process.
Organization skills might just mean having a homework folder or a specific place to put her shoes, but recognizing that putting a system in place can make life more efficient is a valuable tool for her to learn.
People skills, like communication, help us engage in two way conversations, listen and share thoughts in an ongoing easy manner. Point out to your daughter when you’ve spent time with someone who does this, and ask her why she thinks that person is so easy to be around. Use this as an opportunity to explain to her how healthy conversations between people have a give and take flow to them. Model how to start a conversation with someone you don't know by pushing through that fearful, awkward feeling.
In the past, good grades in school have been a strong indicator of success for a young girl. However, we are now seeing that focusing only on academic or physical achievement is not enough. Having report cards that are covered with A’s is not doing our girls justice. In fact, along with those A’s, let’s focus on the C’s, too: Communication, Collaboration, Commitment, Contribution, Character and Creativity.
Your influence is critical to your young daughter, and leadership skills will serve her for the rest of her life. Make sure you’re spending almost as much time teaching and role modeling leadership as you spend driving that minivan to practices.