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A Parent’s Guide to Raising Future Leaders

I’m not a parenting expert, though I have spent over 25 years working as an expert in adult learning and leadership, helping shape leaders from classrooms to boardrooms. Through this work, I have been able to adapt how I approach parenting in my home to set my children up for success as future leaders.

When my family was just starting out, it dawned on me that my husband and I were the first leaders our children would be exposed to. Our family - their first team and first organization - would shape their confidence and courage to join other teams through school and sports, relationships and workplaces. This realization pushed me to take research, theory, and know-how from the best leadership thinkers and play with those concepts in my family.  

My role as a parent is the most important leadership role I have ever taken; it is where I feel most vulnerable and where my imperfections are exposed. As a parent, I have created epic messes and, luckily, also felt moments of joy and celebration in the accomplishment of others. I have learned and grown more than I ever thought possible.

I like to summarize my family and parenting strategic and leadership plan into four B words: Beliefs, Behaviors, Boundaries, and Belonging.

Beliefs: Defining what being a family and being a parent means. Every leader starts with a vision and then uses their values as a compass to guide their journey to achieving their desired results. When it came to my beliefs and starting a family, I looked to the future and imagined the kind of people I hoped my children would grow up to be: Confident, kind, curious, caring - for themselves, each other, and the world around them. It wasn’t a vision of what they would do - the focus was on character and the way I would want to nurture their development.

Next, I looked at myself and created a vision for the kind of parent I wanted to become. Because intention sets direction, I chose to write down qualities of my parents that I wanted to bring forward and those I did not want to repeat. I created my leadership/parenting ‘To Be’ list - not a ‘To Do’ list. 

Behaviors: Defining ‘Our Family Way’ through our words and actions. Simply put, culture is ‘the way we do things around here’ and a healthy culture involves a healthy level of trust. Trust is the foundation for high-performing teams - teams who win together, create together, and have fun playing together. When trust is present, there is inherent psychological safety where we can feel comfortable to speak honestly about our ideas, questions, concerns, and mistakes. When we look at trust as part of a family unit, it’s knowing that you won’t be rejected or punished by your family for being your authentic self. Building this level of trust is done one step at a time, one conversation after another.

My family talks often about behaviors that are ‘our way.’ Like a code of conduct, we have a way of describing how we are as a family, and this helps reinforce trust amongst us. For example, in my family, it is okay to get angry at one another, but it is not okay to yell, hit, or call each other names. Obviously, there are more nuanced guidelines we follow during our everyday lives, and this list is ever changing as our family learns and grows together.

Boundaries: The guardrails for our family. Brené Brown said, “Boundaries are simply our lists of what’s okay and what’s not okay.” And this couldn’t be truer when it comes to boundaries within a family structure. For my family, boundaries create clarity for decision-making around what is okay when the pressure to conform, compete, or compare arises. 

Family boundaries give me language to be able to say yes and mean it; or alternatively, no and mean it without apology or judgement of my family - or yours. Boundaries help my family choose the sports we play individually and together; how we spend our holidays and with whom - all from a place of clarity and compassion. A few times, I recall feeling proud to know that the family rules have also helped my kids navigate peer pressure, friendship drama, and other situations.

Belonging: Feeling seen, heard, known, and accepted just as I am. In a world where loneliness is an epidemic, busyness is a badge, change is constant, and connection and calm are a craving, raising a child is a courageous act of leadership of self and others. We all have the desire to belong to something bigger than ourselves, and family can create this sense of belonging that will help kids - our future leaders - venture into this chaotic world with confidence, curiosity, kindness, and compassion.

To parent is to lead, and leading is about connection and creating a safe place for everyone in the family to learn, grow, and do their best. Connection is grounded in love. You can’t control the future, but you can control how much you love, how often you show it, and how you want to lead through the chaos and change that raising a child and growing a family will always bring. 

You love your kids. You love your family. But many times, it is hard to lead from your best. For me, defining a family and parenting belief system (vision and values) and then clearly defining ‘the way we do things around here’ - our behaviors and boundaries - helped me create clarity and a roadmap to navigate life together.

I believe that my kids are here to teach me what I haven’t yet learned. They are here to challenge my commitment to being their leader. I also believe that my intentions for my parenting become actions and with practice, they become good habits and routines that serve me well in developing strong relationships with my kids in their quest to become who they want to be. And I know that when they leave home, they will know that it’s safe to come home. What I don’t know is what they will say about me when I’m gone. I hope it’s good, but if not, that’s okay. Hopefully it will inspire them to do better and be better leaders for their next generation.

Judy, Founder of Connected Leaders, helps people discover, define, and become the leaders they were meant to be, personally and professionally. Connected Leaders offers coaching training, facilitation, and program design in leadership, emotional intelligence, strategy, and organizational and team performance. For more information, visit Feeling Social? Follow on Facebook and Instagram.

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