“Be a leader, not a follower.”

How many of us have heard that time and time again?

Growing up, I thought being a follower was something to be shunned. The truth is, we each fill the role of either leader or follower in the varied aspects of life. And no space can contain only leaders and no followers.

My children are growing fast and navigating the waters of friendship and playground politics. Now more than ever, I am revisiting my values and ideas about relationships and associations. As my children try to find their place among peers, they sometimes struggle with maintaining their ground or even standing alone when the time calls for it. I hear about the drama taking place outdoors or about their desires to belong or be preeminent. There is frequent counseling on their treatment of others and their need to adjust attitudes as they play.

Truth be told, the more social they become, the more time I spend instructing them on how to be good leaders and equally good followers.

Here are some simple impressions I have that relate to this:

Leading by example and with intention.

Great leaders have to be developed over time, by words, and by the examples set before them. It is extremely important to keep at the fore our understanding that moldable minds and hearts are being guided by how we handle life.

Our children are looking to us and learning every day.  Not only do we strive to keep ourselves in a good balance, but our responsibilities carry over into actively teaching children how to lead with wise hearts, courage, and temperance — in the family room, on the playground, in class, on the field, in rehearsal, etc.  This is difficult, active, and dedicated work, but it is worth it for the lives of young people. We will stumble and fall often. The beautiful thing is, we learn much good from our failures and so can our children.

Follow with wisdom and thought.

Just as important as leading well is following wisely. Parents, we have to teach and model for our children what it looks like to be a follower. This is not a negative thing. I think it is essential. We have the opportunity to demonstrate for our children how to think independently and critically as a follower, how to encourage good leadership, and how to step away from and challenge leaders who do not lead with integrity and honor. How do we do this?  In our homes, among other things, we can

  • allow for respectful dissent and active reasoning.
  • show genuine appreciation and patience when our children speak up, speak out or make a decision that doesn’t necessarily conform to the group.
  • actively listen to each other and create an environment where children become active listeners of those around them.

This will probably work our nerves a good deal as our children find their way. However, this will prove invaluable training in their later years.

For many of us, the biggest impact we will make in life will be within the four walls of homes. Raising the next generation to lead and follow well is indeed an important and deliberate work to which we task ourselves. We should not leave it to chance or assume that our children will learn these things well on their own as they go along. We can hope that our efforts bring about good fruit in the lives of the next generation.

lead and follow