Pete Laburn recently sourced this excellent article by journalist, Judith Ancer. The original source has now been removed, for some reason, so I have included it in full below. Although primarily directed a parents raising children, this piece epitomises what I believe the younger generations should be taught from an early age: Leadership is about serving others.
We should be raising children to be the sort of leaders who help others – and don’t just help themselves
AMERICAN philosopher, teacher and management expert Robert Greenleaf believed that parents and schools should aim to raise “quiet leaders”. These are behind-the-scenes leaders, democratic in style, who want to make things work better, but don’t seek glory for themselves. To which more than one of my friends responded along the lines of, “Ah, yes, they’ll compete well against those hard-driving, well-socialised psychopaths who thrust their companies and countries forward without concern for others.”
There are people more qualified to define the various types of leaders needed in different contexts. But there are two things I am sure about: an uncertain future requires that all children are self-reliant, and the globalised world is increasingly interconnected and collaborative.
Let’s take self-reliance first. Children learn this early on by being given responsibilities. If your five-year-old wants to make scrambled egg, let him have a go. Your kitchen may be a disaster afterwards and so might the eggs, but trust him to learn. Let your children sometimes choose which park to go to or which route to take home. Encourage them to talk to their teachers about problems before coming to you.
Most importantly, get them to set the table, feed the dog or wash the car as a regular chore – in these instances, learning to be responsible also helps the family and community.
Self-reliance is built upon such tasks, but, of course, many children are not bold and charismatic. They may not feel ready at first to be team captain or star of the school play. That’s where the notion of quiet leadership also comes in. Children can serve meaningfully as backstage crew, media-centre monitors, mentors to younger children, loyal team members or supporters. It is our role as parents to value and recognise the importance of these activities.
As for the increasingly interwoven world, can we really afford the old-fashioned leader any more? The one whose upward path is littered with casualties? By casualties, I don’t mean a trail of vanquished, but worthy, competitors or incompetent employees. I mean the leader who rises to power, raises his party’s profile, mobilises the poor, but has million-rand parties and drives imported sports cars. Or the leader whose company advertises generous environmental contributions while soiling and contaminating fragile wetlands in other parts of the world.
These are the contradictions of a perverted sense of leadership. Surely we want leaders who see that the world fits together, that one part affects another?
When your son says he wants to be a prefect, recognise his ambition and then ask him why and what he plans to do when he gets there. If your daughter’s netball team wins a trophy, praise her, then ask her what the coach did this season. If your son scores three goals in hockey, don’t forget to ask him who passed the ball to him.
These are little things, but, as they accumulate, your naturally egocentric child starts to see that success is built on a combination of personal endeavour and the effective contributions of others.
Your child begins to develop an empathic, ethical view of the world as diverse and requiring alliances. This world view will also serve South Africa well. Our multicultural country will thrive only if we raise our children to be future leaders who understand that, as long as one group succeeds at the expense of another, there will be no lasting peace and prosperity for anyone.
The corruption of our leaders begins early on. It begins in families where parents demand their children are winners, question others who appear to hinder their child’s God-given right to success or attack those who don’t elevate their children to the required level. It begins in schools where leadership is rewarded with braiding and badges, and a little control over juniors, but where little or no training goes into showing school leaders how to enhance the growth of others.
I think we will have done a really good job as parents if our children grow into servant leaders who pass Greenleaf’s “best test”. “The best test [of a servant-leader] and difficult to administer is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society: will he benefit or, at least, will he not be further deprived?”