Child Leadership

My 15yo was promoted to sergeant last June. This rank brings with it leadership opportunities. She very much wants to be a leader in her squadron, but it’s hard. Leadership is difficult in general, and in a youth setting it’s no easier. 

For clarity: Her cadet unit, like all others, is built around youth leadership. The officers (reservist adults/CIC members) train the senior NCOs (sergeants and up) on how to deliver the program to the junior cadets.

This year she is captain of Range Team 1, which is composed of the top shooters, and she is very likely the best shooter (by scores). Since June I’ve been working with her on what I consider good leadership. 

To prepare for that I read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. What a fantastic book! Get it, read it, then teach it to your kids. 

To get things started today she was late to range. Right away she went to the coach and apologized, then told him it wouldn’t happen again. BAM! Chapter 1: she took ownership (of being late).

Later, a senior shooter on Team 2 was struggling with standing (at 10m), so she deployed a beautiful mix of her experience and the leadership skills we’ve been discussing. First, she identified how he was feeling and validated that feeling (a skill we learned from dialectical behavioural therapy). Validating his feelings of frustration showed him that she gets it and opened his ears to her. She then asked him to identify where he went wrong with his shot, as well as where he went right. He thought about it, answered, and she explained that you can’t correct what you can’t see, and you can repeat what you’re unaware of.

At this point, I was blown away! These ideas have been topics of conversation for so long and today she finally put them to use. And she did so masterfully! As captain she is expected to maintain order and lead by example, so she didn’t have to go help this guy and she didn’t have to take the time to connect with him.

She went on. She told him to get a hold of how he feels and push it aside so that he can feel good about shooting because that’s why he joined the team – he likes shooting. Focus on the skills, relax, find your happy place, and then shoot from there.

Note: pushing the negative feeling aside isn’t avoidance. It is a distress tolerance skill that gets you through the difficult moment. When you come back to it later you can work on it, however, the process of improving his shooting will wash it away naturally.

She told me that he was intently staring at her, which she didn’t recognize as having his full attention. He went from routinely shooting 40s and 50s (of 100) while standing to knocking out a 70! He went from feeling “irritated” to feeling “happy.” That’s great leadership right there. She took the time to pay attention to his unique situation and guided him through it to a win on the other side.

She revealed that she felt like she was thinking, rather than speaking because her words and ideas just came effortlessly. I asked her why that was and she didn’t answer knowing that I was going to tell her. She could not have given him that advice had she not previously been in his shoes: she has beaten herself up over a bad relay; she had to get her thoughts and feelings under control; she had to push through the difficult times and improve her shots – at Regional, Provincial, and National levels. She could not have known what to explain to him or how to do it had she not sought out a leadership coach (daddy) and listened to the lectures, and chosen to put in the effort. She could not have know which techniques to tell him to focus on had she not listened to her range coach and done as he instructed. 

And, in the end, she felt great about seeing him improve. I absolutely am in love with that part right there. A great leader will be happy that their teammate is winning, giving the spotlight to them to enjoy.

Coach has been watching her growth, which is how she was made captain. He must have seen some of tonight’s exchange because he told her that he needs her to take on more of a leadership role because the other two captains aren’t pulling their weight. In my mind he could have done without that last detail – as the coach, he is the first leader, and a leader shouldn’t talk about his teammates like that to other teammates. That aside, he sees someone interested, skilled, and reliable. As do I.

There is a pattern here:

  1. We find ourselves in difficult situations.
  2. We feel negative feelings about it.
    • Choice 1: let that feeling take hold. Do nothing and it then negatively impacts our performance and later our perceptions of the task, or people, of ourselves
    • Choice 2: confront the negative feelings. Take action by doing what we’ve been taught to do. We make progress. 
  3. We look back at what just happened:
    • We got better at the task and we learn what to repeat, or
    • Something went wrong and we learn what not to repeat. 
  4. We reflect on what just happened:
    • Effort = Results,
    • It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be,
    • I actually CAN do difficult things,
    • Doing it again will be even better/easier next time. 

I am continuously trying to find ways to make the things going on in her life into useful lessons. If I can find a relevant situation to attach wisdom to, then she can relate to it. I can give more direct advice/instructions that are instantly applicable by her. When she is winning, I point it out. And, if needed, I break the win down so that she can see how she got there, step by step.

If you are on the lookout for the wins, then you can stop your child and point them out.

“Look kid, you put all this effort into that, and now you have achieved this amazing something! Now you know that you’re capable!”

Conversely, if you’re on the lookout for things that go wrong, you will find them. The trick with those is how you deal with them. They’re land mines full of explosive emotional triggers. You will get far more mileage out of your efforts when you’re looking for things to praise than if you’re looking for things to tear apart.

Share Your Thoughts