Fathers, Sports, and Developing Children Into Leaders

How to develop leadership potential in your children.

Posted Jun 13, 2011

A series of recently published studies examines the earliest roots of leadership in children. A review paper by Susan Murphy and Stefanie Johnson suggest a number of factors that can lead to the development of leadership potential in kids. The parenting styles of fathers and mothers play an important part, and the authors also explore how sports may benefit in developing leadership potential.

Parenting style is categorized into 4 types:

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by rules, controls, and a dominating style. The authoritarian father may be punitive and adhere to the "spare the rod" rule. Research suggests that children of authoritarian parents, as teens, tend to lack the critical social and communication skills that are important for leadership.

Neglectful parents don't spend enough time with children and let TV and video games do the babysitting. These children tend to have poor self-control and poor communication skills.

Indulgent parenting is characterized by lots of parental warmth and attention, but few restraints - "anything goes." This parenting style typically leads to creativity in children, but little self-control, and often poor social skills.

Authoritative parenting is the gold standard. Authoritative parents encourage their children to be independent, but they set limits and boundaries. Discipline is applied, but in a supportive, non-punitive way. Authoritative parents give their children increasing independence as they mature and this leads to higher leadership potential in their kids. They develop good social skills, are self-reliant, and self-controlled - qualities that serve leaders well.

It is believed that sports fosters leadership qualities in children, and Murphy and Johnson agree. Youth sports tends to build initiative, teamwork skills, and ability to regulate emotions. Children in sports may also develop increased self-confidence, a competitive nature, and a task focus that will all serve them well in later leadership roles. Of course, parents who push their children too hard in sports, or poor coaches, with a "win-at-all-costs" mentality, can work against later leadership development.

We will continue to explore the early roots of leadership in future posts as I tell you more about this fascinating series of studies.

Reference: Murphy, S.E., & Johnson, S.K.  (2011). The benefits of a long-lens approach to leader development: Understanding the seeds of leadership.  The Leadership Quarterly, 22(3), 459-470. 

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