To Teach Kids to Be Great Leaders We Must First Teach Them to Be Great Followers

The first step in learning to lead well, is to learn to follow well.

I don't care how amazing your child is, if he or she cannot learn to follow, he or she will never be a great leader.

I can hear the rumblings of parents everywhere, "What?! You want me to teach my child to follow??? Follow the crowd? Do whatever everyone else is doing? Take a seat in the back of the bus?!?!"

No. That is not what I mean. So settle down, take a drink of water and a deep breath. Relax.

Lets start again.
Are you sure? Because I am just going to repeat myself.

Every great leader needs to first learn to be a follower- even your sweet child.

Teaching our Kids

Do you know of any army generals who were not first a second lieutenant? As a second lieutenant they got to boss around nobody. But they had to do every single command their general gave to the letter and without arguing. Completing difficult assignments with speed, excellence, and a good attitude demonstrated potential in a young officer. It is the ones who obeyed perfectly and reliably who were promoted and eventually became the next generation's generals.

"But I don't want my child to be regimented or in the military! I want them to free and adventurous and not have their little spirit crushed by the cruel limitations of the world."

Alright, lets take an artist. That seems the epitome of free-spirit living.

Do you know how all the great artists of the Renaissance were trained? They were under STRICT instruction of a older master where they copied exactly paintings that the master had already completed. No ingenuity or deviation allowed. Or they painted backgrounds exactly as they were told. They FOLLOWED directions. Then, once their skills matched their innate talent they were free to bring their ingenuity and uniqueness to the world. 

Rembrandt trained for five years, under two different masters before he went out on his own. Then he eventually trained his own students in the exact same way. And he produced some of the most beautiful art on the planet.

Here is another example.

Secretariat exceeded all previous horses. His power, strength, speed, and endurance propelled him past all contenders. His extraordinary physical abilities, however, were only as effective as his willingness to follow the guidance and direction of his trainer and jockey.

Do you know the name of a big, powerful, fast horse who is so uncontrollable that he can't be trusted on a race track? NO! Of course you don't, because that kind of horse Never. Accomplishes. Anything. Therefore, he is unknown.

How Will Our Kids Become Great Leaders

How will our kids learn to be great leaders? They can begin to understand at home, under their first teachers- Mom and Dad. They further hone their skills under the training of teachers, coaches, pastors, bosses and others they have to follow. As they practice following rules, meeting expectations, and making others successful, they learn daily how to someday lead their own followers.

I have news for you, and I will warn you that you might find this unpleasant. If your child cannot willingly and consistently follow your directions, then you are not setting them up to be a great leaders. If their teacher complains that he or she will not comply in class or the coach finds him or her difficult to coach, there are warning sirens going off. Can you hear them?

"But my child is so smart and precocious and strong-willed! You obviously don't understand!"

Oh, yes I do! I GET strong-willed. But it is the kids with the most leadership potential (aka- strong-willed) who need to learn to obey and follow the most!

You know what famed University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal said about potential? "Potential means you ain't done it yet."

(I would like credit for quoting Darrell Royal. As an Aggie it caused me actual pain to quote a coach from UT- but I do think it represents great maturity on my part!)

Our kids can have all the potential in the world, but without the strength to channel and use it, they "ain't done it yet." Their life could end up like the proverbial, unruly horse, who unlike Secretariat, never won anything.

Self-control is not a weakness, but a significant strength. Controlled strength creates the greatest impact.  But how can our kids learn to lead others if they can't lead their own spirit?

Looking At Jesus

How did Jesus lead? By demanding His rights and the honor He was due? By getting His own way? No. Rather, He lowered Himself to be born a man, to live in obedience to parents for thirty years, to not do His own will but always do the will of His Heavenly Father, and to sacrificially die on the cross. 

Because Jesus followed His Father's plan that had been in place since Genesis 3:15, and He followed it exactly, He leads us to the cross. The gift of Jesus following and leading! It not only provides us with salvation, but it also instructs our lives. By His example Jesus trains us to servant-hearted leadership.

When the Lord of the Universe got down and did the lowliest household chore of washing His disciples' feet, He told them, "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." (Luke 13:14, NASB)

I never desire my kids to follow the crowd, fads, or foolishness. Instead I pray they follow Jesus with their hearts and their lives. He is their best example of a great leader.

Don't Be Afraid

The only way I can LEAD my kids to Jesus is if I FOLLOW Him absolutely. My kids are not the only ones who can't lead without following! 

But I also teach them to obey God by first teaching them to obey me. How will they ever follow God into the difficult places He calls them, if they have never learned to obey in small areas of their lives?

I implore you- don't be afraid to train your kids to follow you and your directions. It won't hobble them, instead it will hone their muscles to the peak of strength to run their race with endurance and effectiveness. 

They can then become the greatest kind of leader of all.