Most people have big dreams for their kids. After all, you’ve worked hard to give them the best possible life you can. It’s only natural, then, to want them to succeed, not just in their personal lives, but also in the workplace. One of the biggest determining factors of ultimate career success? Possessing leadership qualities.
While these can certainly be absorbed as an adult, learning to be a leader at a young age certainly gives you a head start. For women in the workplace, any potential advantage is a welcome one. If you have a daughter, here’s how to instill leader-worthy qualities through smart parenting strategies. For more on raising a daughter, check out these 30 Things Only Moms With Daughters Know.
Speak to her directly.
Help your daughter learn to communicate effectively by doing away with wishy-washy language. “Less ‘maybe,’ ‘possibly,’ or ‘perhaps’ and more ‘I believe,’ ‘I will’ and ‘I know,’” suggests Liv Chapman, Director of Training at Inner Glow Circle, a women’s leadership and coach training company. “When we teach our daughters to speak with conviction by eliminating cushion words which diminish our authority, we command a level of leadership and trust that is convincing and strong.” For more on quality parenting, check out these 40 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kid.
Point out strong female leaders in the media.
There are plenty of strong, inspiring women out there in the public eye. Make sure your daughter knows who they are. “Parents should seek and reinforce examples in business, journalism, and the arts of women who are in leadership positions and making positive changes in their role as leaders,” says Dr. Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach. For more on raising an amazing daughter, check out these 40 Parenting Hacks for Raising an Amazing Kid.
Listen to her talk at length.
It might sound overly simple, but simply listening to your daughter speak is a great way to encourage her, especially if you don’t interrupt with your own thoughts. “This gives her a chance to clarify her thinking, practice articulating it, and be taken seriously,” says Kerri Wall, a parenting expert who trains women leaders. “Take her seriously. Don’t mock or discredit or dismiss her thoughts and ideas. Be interested in what she thinks and how she feels.” For more ways to laugh through the pain of parenthood, check out these 30 Funniest Pieces of Celebrity Parenting Advice.
“A young leader must be willing to fail,” explains Melody Pourmoradi, a life and wellness coach and the creator of the GiRLiFE Empowerment Series. Why? “Because they know that effort is everything and that greatness takes time.”
If your daughter doesn’t get something quite right on the first try, take the opportunity to talk to her about it and help her figure out what went wrong and what she can do better next time. “By failing forward, young girls will gather more information and understand a topic in a deeper and more evolved way on the path to learning from the setback.” For more on being the best parent, be sure to recognize these 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For.
Teach her to volunteer first.
“We’ve all been there. Someone asks for help or a volunteer—and no one speaks up,” says Thomas Harris, co-owner of The Exceptional Skills. “Everyone is afraid of being first. Finally, one person does, and everyone else follows suit. Teach your daughter to be the one who stands up first. Teach her to take action. The person who goes first is seen as brave, bold, confident—and a leader.” For those with older daughters, be sure to check out these 30 Mind-Blowing Facts About Millennials.
Let her refuse to hug or kiss someone.
Even if it’s Grandma. “In our #MeToo culture, we know how important body boundaries are, yet we continue to force our girls (and boys) to be affectionate when they don’t want to be,” says Laine Lipsky, a teacher and certified parent educator. “In essence, we are training them to go along with forced affection even when they say ‘no.’ An alternative, when it’s important to acknowledge someone such as Grandma, would be to give a high-five or a warm wave.”
Praise leader-like behavior.
“The number one suggestion I offer parents is to recognize when their daughter does something that a leader would do, and praise it,” says Adam C. Earnheardt, Ph.D., chair of the department of communication at Youngstown University, who teaches, researches, and writes about leadership.
“Too often we do this for boys and not for girls. For example, when your daughter lifts up other people with a kind comment or gesture, particularly other girls who are feeling excluded from an activity, this is a real sign of leadership, a behavior that should be recognized and encouraged.” For more parenting wisdom, check out these 30 Hilarious Tweets Every Parent Can Relate To.
Help her build her network.
“Young women are often not given opportunities because of limited networks,” explains Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, an author and consultant who specializes in leadership. “Getting involved in multifaceted extracurriculars is important to start early. Instilling follow up, being polite, and even sending thank you letters are great habits to help them establish a reputation sooner than later. Exposing our daughters to difference in race, ideology, ethnicity, etc. can help them develop unique perspectives and expand their friendship base. This will help them in an ever-changing, increasingly more global environment.”
Point out examples of “courageous authenticity”.
“One leadership quality we can help our girls develop is ‘courageous authenticity,’ or the willingness to speak up for what we believe even when it’s uncomfortable,” says Tracy Cutchlow, author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. “When you come across an example of a woman doing so (or when you do it), point it out. Walk through the thought process out loud: ‘It must have been difficult to say what she believed, because a lot of people didn’t agree. She said it anyway, and that’s making a positive change in the world.’”
Give her an audience.
“Encourage her to take drama classes, to sing in a choir, join the debate club, or anything similar that may get her in front of an audience,” Wall suggests. “Leaders don’t have to be public speakers, but many are and it’s an extremely valuable skill for leaders to cultivate.” For more on being a great mother, check out these 20 Easy Ways to Be a (Much) Better Mother.
Be a leader yourself.
“Parents, especially moms, who are leaders or aspire to be leaders set an example for their daughters,” Horowitz says. And while speaking about leadership with your daughter is a good start, showing her how to be one through your actions is even better. “Children respond best to what parents do more than what parents say.”
Let her choose her own clothes—within reason.
“Let’s face it: Girl clothing is ridiculously cute. While it’s tempting to make all the clothing choices for our daughters based on our own preferences, it really is important to let them choose what they want to wear, so long as it’s appropriate for the temperature, event, and of course the girl’s age,” Lipsky says. “When you think about it, this is one area of their young lives where they can express themselves and develop confidence with our support. When you question or correct their taste, it sends the message that they don’t have good judgement, which may impair their confidence down the road.”
Encourage activities like Girl Scouts.
“I also suggest parents get their daughters involved in Girl Scouts or other groups where they can learn more about leadership skills,” Earnheardt says. “It’s more than just earning badges and awards. Organizations like the Girl Scouts really know how to teach these lessons in ways that girls can start to apply at a very early age.”
Expose her to the tougher parts of being a leader.
It’s important to show future leaders that being in charge isn’t always easy. “Running my own business, my daughter knows when I have to let a staff go, or when clients are not happy,” says Stacy Haynes, CEO of Little Hands Family Services. “We discuss the good side of leadership as well as the challenges of leadership in a company.”
Allow her to say no.
And respect it when it’s possible. “While you are still the parent and have the final say, it’s important to let our young women-in-training set a boundary and learn to use the word ‘no,’ Lipsky points out. “As we all know, it’s crucial that our girls can say ‘no’ and have it respected, so they can identify when someone doesn’t respect it.” For more on being the best father you can be, check out these 20 Easy Ways to Be a (Much) Better Father.
Ask questions before giving advice.
“When your daughter comes to you for help, first acknowledge her willingness to seek advice and to gain perspective and feedback from someone she looks up to,” Wall says. “Don’t jump into ‘fix it’ mode, but acknowledge her for recognizing she needs help and then ask her to tell you more about what is going on and what possibilities she has for solving it. By doing this, you show her that she is already a leader and that we trust her input first, before giving ours.”
Do a job you love.
“If you love your job and the steps you have taken in your career, share that passion with her,” recommends Ina Coveney, a career and tech expert. “Tell her how hard you worked to get to where you are and some of the challenges you had to overcome. If you are not excited about your job (which happens to a lot of us), start a side hustle doing something you love. Show her that you are resourceful and always chasing after something better. She will feed off that energy and know that anything is possible. Leaders see the world as full of opportunities, and they can only feel this way if they have been brought up to believe that anything is possible.”
Encourage any team activity she’s interested in.
“It is important to teach our girls that the most impactful leaders have a team mentality,” Pourmoradi says. Because of this, participating in a team of any kind—whether it’s a sports team, debate team, or dance team—is a leadership-building experience. “Impactful leaders understand that there is power in numbers and that by embracing the strengths of everyone on the team, we can create a greater reach and depth for our message.”
Ask her opinion.
“Ask her about the things that are important to her,” Wall recommends. “Why does she love her favorite show? Why does she think that reproductive rights are crucial for girls? What gets hard for her about staying close to her friends? How does she think her school could be improved?” For more on being a good listener and observer, check out these 20 Ways You’re Stopping Yourself From Being More Mindful without Realizing It.
Dispel leadership myths early.
“My wife and I talk to our kids about the myths of leadership, and that people are ‘born’ leaders,” Earnheardt states. “Sometimes leaders don’t emerge as ‘leaders’ until later in life. But we spend years of practice and observation to learn to become good leaders. It’s that last part, observation, that we know women are much better at than men… the power of observation. So we encourage that in our own daughters, to observe the world around them, the people in that world, and the ways in which the can lead and help people around them.”
Practice smart decision-making with her.
As an adult, it might feel natural to weight the pros and cons of various options before making a decision, but kids don’t innately know how to do this. Next time your daughter has a decision to make—big or small—sit down with her and help her write out the advantages and disadvantages of her choices. Discuss them with her. Eventually, she’ll learn to do this instinctually and will be well on her way to being a decision-making pro.
Take her to conferences, workshops, and meetings she might be interested in.
“Exposing young women to thought leadership can build critical thinking skills,” Booker-Drew notes. “I brought my daughter to workshops and meetings as a preteen to model leadership in action but I also wanted her to hear new ideas and see women in positions of power. I would always engage her afterwards to give input on her thoughts and opinions so she would be comfortable in sharing and knowing her ideas mattered. My daughter watched me obtain a PhD. We did homework together! That experience taught my child that dreams can become reality, hard work pays off and she saw dedication in action. She, too, developed a passion for learning and has excelled beyond my wildest dreams.”
Talk about feelings.
Yes, being in touch with your feelings is an important leadership quality. “The best way children become emotionally intelligent is by feeling their feelings, learning to name them, and getting support from caring adults during upsets,” Wall says. “Emotional intelligence sets leaders apart.” For more on parenting, make sure you check out these 20 Secrets Your Babysitter Isn’t Telling You.
Let her be bad at things.
“Nobody started by being great at everything, and everyone requires some exposure to new activities before they excel at them,” Coveney says. Remember that it’s okay for your daughter to participate in an activity she enjoys regardless of whether she’s the best (or worst) in the group. “Make it a positive experience and step back and observe. Encourage her to continue to be curious about learning, and show her that nothing is outside her reach. Resourcefulness is an essential trait of good leaders.”
“Leadership is not about ruling over people but helping people to achieve a common goal,” Haynes says. Talk with your daughter about why it’s important to be kind—no matter the situation.
Let her work if she wants to.
Whether it means starting a lemonade stand in elementary school or getting a retail job or babysitting in high school, allow your daughter to work if she is interested in doing so. Not only will this teach her the value of a hard-earned paycheck, but she’ll get an early jump on what it means to have work-related responsibilities.
Treat at-home conflicts as learning opportunities.
By talking through any disagreements that arise at home, you can teach your daughter effective conflict resolution skills. “Difficult conversations are around us every day,” Wall points out. “Learning basic conflict resolution is related to emotional intelligence. It can be as simple as making requests rather than making complaints, asking others about their intentions, and revealing impacts. These skills can be practiced in the home throughout our lives.”
Encourage her to build up other girls.
Compliments can go a long way, so encourage her to give them to her friends—not on their clothes or appearance, but on their intelligence, compassion, or skills that make them stand out. Ask your daughter what she admires most about her friends, and then urge her to tell them what she came up with. Today’s society often pits girls against each other, but the best leaders are able to recognize—and support—other people’s strengths. For more on female power, don’t miss these 20 Timeless One-Liners from History’s Extraordinary Women.
“Service is a part of leading,” Booker-Drew says. “Providing young women with opportunities to give back will help them recognize that even in positions of power, we have a responsibility to exercise compassion and dignity toward others, no matter their current condition.”
Save praise for when you really mean it.
Chances are, your daughter has many talents, but no kid is good at everything. Don’t let praise be your default response to everything she does. Kids are intuitive, and they will eventually catch on if you tell them that everything they do is genius when it’s actually not. It’s important to be supportive of her efforts, but save approving comments for when she really deserves them. For more on parenting, check out these 30 Funniest Tweets About Parenting.
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