The 21st century is an exciting time to be a young woman. Our daughters have more examples than ever of female leadership. From all levels of government and non-profits to the technology sector and the sports arena, women are stepping up into with an amplified level of power, influence and respect. Girls today are being brought up to stand up for themselves and overcome their fears. Fostering the skills of today’s young women can seem like a daunting task, but when parents work to unlock their child’s potential extraordinary things can happen. Raising a leader doesn’t happen overnight. It’s working with your daughter from a young age to empower them over time to give them confidence and candor. It’s teaching them that leadership is not synonymous with perfection. What steps can you take to encourage leadership in your daughter?
1. Give her space to take risks
We live in a culture that is constantly reinforcing a girl’s fear of failure. Leaders need to overcome fears and take risks. Our fears and insecurities hold us back from our full potential. Dr. Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of Untangled, Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, determined that the key factor to girls’ success is “persistence in the face of difficulty and resilience in the face of obstacles.” – something she calls “grit.” Give your daughter the opportunity to “fail forward.” When she is praised for her courageous attempts and her triumphs in life, the safe space you provide for her risk and discovery will allow her to thrive in the face of adversity.
Work with your daughter to find programs such as athletics, girl scouts, challenging academic classes, and clubs that will involve constructive and creative problem-solving skills, teamwork and initiative to develop grit. Allow her to step out of “traditional” roles and explore new pursuits that may seem unconventional. Learning that failure and growth go hand-in-hand is a key part of leadership.
2. Inspire her independence.
It’s a natural instinct for involved parents to want to set their child up for success. Encouraging independence from the youngest age of your daughter’s life will open up a world of self-discovery and confidence. Learning coping skills by solving problems on her own will give your daughter confidence in their decision making skills for the larger, more intense obstacles in life. Independence shows your daughter that you trust her and believe in her. Allowing your daughter to have her own constructive voice in her life gives her a feeling of empowerment that helps her to feel secure in what she is capable of.
3. Create opportunities for connection, competition, and collaboration.
Working together with other future female leaders is invaluable to your daughter’s development as an effective, empathic and authentic leader. Support your daughter in building meaningful relationships across a diverse range of people, including their male counterparts. Young women need to learn skills for interacting with their male peers if they are going to hold leadership roles. Help your daughter understand what their role is in these collaborations and that they should not compare themselves to their team mates. Talk to her about celebrating each of her teammates strengths and embracing those differences to create a stronger bond. Collaboration develops empathy and lowers the chance for negative competitiveness and low self-esteem. There are leaders of all different types and by learning her own leadership style, your daughter will find her unique place.
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4. Expose her to a diverse range of mentor female leaders.
We know it is essential for young women and girls to have models to look to and mentors to learn from in order for them to fully realize their potential as leaders. Being exposed to leadership mentors will give your daughter the opportunity to seek guidance and comfort from someone other her parents, which in turn, will bring about a sense of confidence. As Marian Wright Edelman states, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Present her with a world in which she can see herself participating as an active and innovative trailblazer and give her access to the stories of women on whose shoulders she can lean and stand. It’s no surprise that girls identify the most with their mothers, so be sure to give them a strong, healthy example. Dads are not exempt from the this role. Show your daughters that you respect women and that they are your equals.
5. Dare her to dream
Women are natural visionaries. Challenge her to develop a vision for growth and social change. Widen her horizons through travel, reading, culinary experiences, visiting museums, and through volunteer work. Work to expand her horizons on topics that she is passionate about. Carve out time for her to pursue the pastimes that can attribute to her future successes -- the arts, music, coding, athletics. Give her the opportunity to feel comfortable to know she can take risks in these passions and the sense of joy she will feel when she conquers the “what-ifs” in life. Celebrate dreaming, exercise the imagination, welcome wonder! Embolden your girl to tap into her innate curiosity and creativity. Drive home the importance of going above and beyond of what is expected of your daughter in these experiences. Encourage her to constantly be searching for new opportunities to learn and grow. A spirit of being on the lookout for what’s next is vital for a future leader to possess.
6. Encourage her to pursue a passionate sense of purpose.
Paving a path from “dreaming” to “doing” is the unique skill of an effective leader. As you create the climate for your daughter to take risks, present her with real-world opportunities to bring her dreams to life. Encourage her to take on leadership roles in her school, sports teams and clubs. These scenarios will educate your daughter on the importance of perseverance.
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7. Show her the value of service. Leaders understand that they are meant to guide, care and uplift others.
Help your daughters to find leadership roles in careers that they are so passionate about, they’d do it for free. By developing her sense of empathy through generosity and compassion, she will find a career path that will bring her great satisfaction and make a positive impact on the world around her. Encourage your daughter toward active, thoughtful, authentic kindness. Pay attention to your own environment and use it as a space to begin the practice. Help her see that the wellbeing of all is only enhanced when all experience fairness, compassion, and nourishment. A true leader knows how to recognize other people’s achievements and take note when they are feeling discouraged. They’ll work to encourage those on their team.
8. Celebrate who she is
There is nothing more powerful for a girl to feel that she is loved for being just who she is. When she experiences this kind of support, her own sense of self-worth will flourish. Show her that you value her opinions and perspective. It’s in such an environment that she can begin to actively grow her own self-knowledge, her capacity for self-care, and ultimately her self-confidence; all crucial to her future health and success. Consciously take the time to meaningfully convey pride in and love for your daughter.
9. Ask and listen
Perhaps nothing demonstrates your trust in and valuing of your daughter more than your willingness to communicate with her. Often, we want so much to help our daughters that without realizing it we tell them what to do or think, and we fail to listen to them and learn from them. By cultivating authentic conversation in which you ask her open-ended questions about her emotions, her opinions, and her experiences not only will you show your daughter how much you respect and believe in her, you will also gain far greater insight into her unique situation and needs. Learning to be a good listener is a critical part of being a leader. Being present for someone and giving them your support creates a positive feeling of fellowship. Ask questions that encourage self-reflection to open up communication and dialogue and offer your support from this place of intention.
10. Enjoy her!
Spend time with your daughter just for the sheer pleasure of her company! Invite her to play in your presence, share downtime, create opportunities to join in small adventures that have no outside agenda. Find your shared interests and make time to do them together. It is during this time, you both will be the most open and receptive to listen or be heard. Our time with our children is short and at times bittersweet in its fleetingness; seize this incredible chance to learn from her deep wisdom, sharp perception, and fresh sense of fun.
Parents of future leaders need to be mindful of their actions and parenting. As your future leader’s first role model, it is up to you to to be her teammate and champion. Listen closely and trust in her wisdom. Have the confidence in yourself to know that you are doing a good job raising your daughter into a future leader.