Everywhere I travel, I meet parents who are interested in developing leadership qualities in their children—regardless of the child’s age. Many have concluded that thinking and acting like a genuine, servant-leader is a differentiator in today’s graduate.
If we hope to develop our kids, we’ve got to find ways to communicate in a language they understand. We must become relevant to Millennials and Generation Z. I suppose this is the challenge for every parent in every generation. How do we pass on principles that are universal and timeless to a young population that seems to be totally caught up in the “now?”
I believe this is critical for us to understand if we hope to nurture the leader in our child. Our generation must both cling to the timeless values we know are essential, and also find ways to pass them on to an ever-changing culture of kids. Ask yourself: What are the essential principles of life you want your kid to know? Then, ask: How will you best transfer those principles to them? What will help them really get it? Your response will force you to become relevant, and use the right tools to arrive at your goal. So what can you do to remain relevant to your kids?
Seven Ways to Stay Relevant
1. Become a student of the culture.
Your first decision should be to study the world your kids live in. Start to listen with more than your ears. Read magazines, newspapers and online articles to look for patterns. Interview your kids. Learn their language. Watch what they do, what they esteem and where they go. You might even try to watch an hour of MTV or the popular videos on Youtube (I know that may be pushing the envelope a bit!). But you will be amazed how quickly you will understand the world your kids live in.
2. Learn to distinguish what is cultural and what is timeless.
Both kids and adults struggle with this one. Each of us is immersed in our own cultural issues, from our own generation—your kids included. Like a missionary in a foreign land, you must decide what you can do to bridge the gap between two cultures, yours and your kids. Know what you are willing to die for and what you won’t—so you can teach the same to your children. Be flexible like the Golden Gate Bridge, but stand on your foundation—and pass on that foundation to your kids.
3. Look for redemptive analogies.
Since we adults are “missionaries” in a foreign culture, I thought this principle was relevant. I learned it from a friend named Don Richardson. Every culture and every generation has within it some redemptive analogies—pictures of truth; events or people who illustrate a timeless principle. Keep in mind that these analogies can be positive or negative, and still be redemptive. For instance, in the 1990s, parents received a vivid opportunity to talk to our kids about character during the impeachment trial of President Clinton. The lessons had nothing to do with a political party. Since that time, parents have had lots of platforms to talk about integrity via Lance Armstrong or the Wall Street scandals. Each illustrates the importance of integrity and trust. It just may be that our kids did learn a lesson from it all. William Strauss reported that the Millennial generation “had harsher opinions about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal than any other group.”
4. Create a leadership gymnasium.
Once you come up with a redemptive analogy, find or create a place to practice the principle. I call it a leadership gymnasium—a place to exercise your kid’s leadership muscles. In short, this allows you to convert good ideas into practice! On a large scale, the United States Constitution can be viewed as a “gymnasium” that translated the ideas and values of the Declaration of Independence into action. As we mentor our kids, we must find ways to translate good thoughts into everyday life. These will always accelerate the learning curve for your child. To do this, start by asking the question: What can we do to activate this principle in our child’s life? Here’s a hint: their school could be a perfect laboratory to get started.
5. Communicate from their world.
Once we arrive at redemptive analogies and find the leadership gymnasiums, we must communicate with our kids. I believe we should always teach from what we have heard from them. As I bring up questions and start discussions—it is always based upon what my kids have said already. Further, my goal is seldom to give them more information. (They usually have plenty of that!) I want them to apply what they know; to practice what they’ve learned. Transformation comes from application. We don’t want them to forget what they’ve learned or to lose what they’ve gained.
Instruction without application is destined to fail.
6. Never assume that what worked yesterday should work today.
Change happens so quickly in today’s world, we are foolish to assume we can continue to do what we have always done with our kids. They are growing and changing. Their world is growing and changing. We must show some creativity and try new things to communicate and mentor them. As I converse with my kids, I try to discover just how deep they are willing to go with me—in regard to the current topic. My rule of thumb is that their attention span is about the same as their age. Sadly, in today’s reality, a teen’s attention span is little more than 6-7 seconds. So you have to make a quick assessment of how well both of you are connecting.
7. Measure success by connection—not control.
Finally, be sure to measure the right stuff. Our goal is not to control our children’s lives. Our goal is to connect, so we can give them all the tools they will need to reach their potential. Be sure to evaluate how well you are relating to them; how safe they feel to talk transparently with you; how secure they are with themselves and with your love; how much they feel you understand them; and how much they seem to understand you when you share. These factors are the true measure of connection success.