How Parents Help Grow (or Hurt) Leadership Skills in Kids

Some kids are natural leaders. (We all know that 3-year-old who organizes their playmates and is happy to take charge of whatever situation they are in.) Other children learn how to be a leader like they learn how to play a sport or an instrument. Regardless, here are some ways that parents can foster leadership qualities in their kids that will help them lead as they get older … and one or two things parents accidentally do that end up stifling leadership qualities in their kids.

Leadership & Children

Right out of the gate, it’s important to understand that leadership is not a singular skill — kids don’t learn “leadership.” Instead, it is a group of skills that work together. Those skills include:

  • Self-confidence.
  • Problem solving.
  • Teamwork.
  • Responsibility.
  • The ability to express thoughts and feelings.
  • Independence.

Just like how good hand-eye coordination and stamina make a good soccer player or perfect pitch makes a good musician, some children are “natural” leaders. In other words, their personalities naturally push them into positions of leadership. 

But leadership skills can be learned and cultivated, too. According to Dr. Karon LeCompte at Baylor University, leadership is a lifelong pursuit. “Certainly, one can argue that people are born with characteristics that leverage them toward leadership positions.

How Parents Affect a Child’s Leadership Style

If you’ve read Little Sunshine’s blog before, you’ll know there’s a recurring theme: Parents have enormous influence on their children’s development and behavior. And while that’s empowering, it can also have you feeling like this …


Your child’s leadership qualities are not excluded from this reality. Take a look at your parenting style to see if any of these behaviors are present.

  • Supervise into submission – One of the most detrimental things parents can do as it relates to growing their child’s leadership skills is “helicopter parenting.” Multiple studies done with teenagers have shown that the ones with overprotective parents had lower self-esteem and were less confident about being a leader. “Overparenting may also create this undermining effect because it signals to children that they are not capable of independence and that their parents don’t trust them to look after themselves, let alone others,” wrote the BBC’s Christian Jarrett.

    As difficult as it sounds, letting children take risks and avoiding the urge to rescue them from hard situations is vital to developing their leadership skills. “If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders,” said Forbe’s contributor Kathy Caprino.

    Your goal as a parent is not to keep difficult things from happening to your child — your job is to give them:

    • The guidance they need to make the best decision possible …
    • And the security of knowing you are there for them regardless of the outcome. 

Obviously this doesn’t mean letting them do obviously dangerous or life-threatening things. But if a scraped knee or a bruised ego now means self-confidence and better problem-solving in the future, then let your child make the decision for themself.

  • Silence with your past mistakes – Kids are already prone to think that the adults in their life are perfect. Don’t let them!

    If you have a trusted relationship with your child, share relevant mistakes you made when you were their age as a way for them to learn how to make good choices. Be the appropriate cautionary tale in their life so they can learn how to navigate tough decisions or see negative consequences to poor choices.

    (Quick disclaimer: Keep things age appropriate and on topic. What were you dealing with at 5 and 6 years old? Talk about that. Save the high-school issues for when they’re in high school 🙂)

  • Not leading by example – OOF. This one hurts. But it’s true. Similar to the previous point, kids are looking to their parents as the primary example of character and behavior in their lives. If they see their parents being brave, growing as leaders, and making wise decisions, they’ll have the template they need to do the same thing for themselves.

    Not to counteract being silent about past mistakes, but parents also need to humble brag on themselves a bit. (If it’s just TOO weird to talk about your own successes, discuss this with a spouse or friend. You can talk each other up instead.) When you make good decisions that show off your leadership skills, talk about it in front of your children. Not only can they now see what not to do in a given situation, you can be the example of what a leader looks like, too. 

Every child can’t become the leader of a country or a major corporation. But everyone is asked to be a leader at times, so nurturing leadership skills is vital to their development. As a parent, contribute to their success by building up those skills while your children are small. It’s never too late to start building confident, responsible human beings.