Eric Scalise, Ph.D.
There are multiple and sometimes, ambiguous definitions of what we refer to as “leadership.” Leaders have been characterized as visionary, transformational, charismatic, and even servant-oriented. In today’s post-modern culture, one that increasingly undermines a Christian worldview, leadership challenges abound everywhere for moms and dads in the 21st century. Many would argue that being a great parent usually means being a great leader. Parental communication, parenting styles, and other family dynamics, have a long and deep footprint in the literature when it comes to their impact within the home environment.
For the past 25 years, researchers, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, have been describing what they refer to as the five practices of exemplary leadership (see www.leadershipchallenge.com/). While not overtly biblical in its approach, there are some excellent principles that can be gleaned from their work. Let’s take a closer look at these five practices, as well as some potential applications for parents.
Challenging the Process
According to Kouzes and Posner, effective leaders, “search for opportunities to change the status quo, look for innovative ways to improve the organization, are willing to take risks, and accept mistakes and failures as inevitable and as learning opportunities.”
In a fast-paced, push-button, instant-everything world dominated by technology, parents find themselves trying to figure out how to “stay current” with their kids. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we are undergoing such seismic shifts in the culture. Middle schoolers typically know more about the Internet, social media, and the latest gadget, than most of their parents do. Sadly, however, today’s “status quo” is too often devoid of meaningful human connection. Some may argue that the most technologically connected generation ever seen is also the most relationally disconnected. Don’t offer your children an E-manual, but let them experience Emmanuel (God with us) through authentic relationship. Yes, you may stumble a bit and make mistakes in trying to “keep up,” but deep down, part of humanity’s God-given DNA is to have and be in genuine relationship…with Him and with others. Parents can challenge the process to remain relevant while still embracing the core principles found in God’s Word.
Inspiring a Shared Vision
Secondly, Kouzes and Posner maintain that exemplary leaders, “passionately believe they can make a difference, envision the future, create ideal and unique images of what things could look like, and enlist others in their dreams.”
Good leaders always have followers and this is no different for parents. With much to criticize and bemoan in society today, children and young people still need to be filled with hope about the future, not fear and a disimpassioned outlook. They need mothers and fathers who can “pass the baton” to the next generation. Our sons and daughters represent tomorrow’s future—our teachers, our pastors, our scientists and innovators, our politicians and policy makers, and more—they need parents who can impart a balanced and Christ-centered legacy. Parents are like God’s optometry assistants, we help correct vision. Some of our children are near-sighted. All they can see are the worries and cares right in front of them, and are unaware of what God may have in the days ahead. Others are far-sighted. They only see what everyone else needs to do or change, and struggle to understand their own personal responsibilities and decisions. And frankly, some are simply blind. However, the good news is that we serve the God of the impossible. He is the “great physician” and can bring focus and clarity to any situation. The prophet Joel said God would, “pour out His Spirit… that our sons and daughters would prophesy [speak to the future]… old men would dream dreams… and young men would see visions” (Jl. 2:28-29). Give your children something to believe in—better yet, take the journey with them.
Enabling Others to Act
Third, leaders, “foster collaboration and build spirited teams by involving others, understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts, strive to create an atmosphere of trust and dignity, and strengthen and empower others by making them feel capable.”
Many would argue that America is raising a generation of spoiled and entitled young people, who expect too much and work too little. The real world is often a different place altogether and those who are about to enter that world are woefully unprepared for the realities awaiting them. Frustrated parents then demand respect from their kids when it is far better to command respect. Mutual trust and dignity are important elements that help hold any relationship together. This requires active engagement, a hands-on empowerment that equips our sons and daughters for the future. Sometimes, it also means allowing our children to fail, to experience the consequences of their own actions, and yet in the midst of that failure, for them to know deep down, we will never leave or forsake them. We must find ways to say, “I believe in you. I give you my blessing. Now go and fulfill all that God has for you!”
Modeling the Way
Fourth, leaders, “establish values related to conduct, create standards of excellence and then set the example, create milestones to reach along the way to create opportunities for success, and never ask someone to do something where they are not first willing to lead in.”
Children often do what mom and dad do, not necessarily what mom and dad say. Going to church on a Sunday may be more about what children observe and experience in the home Monday through Saturday. What values and beliefs are modeled and how consistently are they displayed? Benjamin Franklin once said, “What you appear to be, be really.” In other words, is there a level of congruency between the things that are spoken and the actions that are lived out? Kids make mistakes, a lot of them, but so do parents. One of the most profound examples of humility to a child is when a mother or father says, “I’m sorry for what I said (or did). Would you please forgive me?” Parents are like plows in a fallow field. They are on the cutting edge and must create opportunities for the seeds to be planted and to be planted in good soil—not among the thorns, on the road, or rocky ground—so that, “as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mk. 4:1-9).
Encouraging the Heart
Finally, leaders, “recognize the contributions that others make, create a sense of ownership, celebrate accomplishments, and make people feel like heroes.”
Human nature is such that we tend to take better care of what we think or know belongs to us. This includes our homes and all they represent. Parents need to ensure their children understand and experience a healthy ownership of the family dynamic, the home environment, and the relationships that are critical to its health and survival. Scripture teaches us the power of life and death is in the tongue, so we need to be discerning and wise with our words—not offering false or empty praise, but loving encouragement. Research has shown that for every negative or critical thing people hear about themselves, the average person needs 17 positives to restore balance. Too many young people enter adulthood buried in negativity. Our children need to be supported, appropriately honored, and celebrated every chance there is. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another. It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (1 Thes. 5:11, Heb. 13:9).
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.