Recently, my family joined a new church here in Austin. When we first decided to join the church, my oldest daughter (Julia) was less than pleased. She is deaf, but the church didn’t have American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters meaning she would be the only deaf person at the service. Like most teenagers, she didn’t want to stick out and be the “oddball” but she still agreed to go. We were fortunate that on her first Sunday attending church, another deaf person, whom she knew, also decided to attend and sat next to her in the sanctuary. We also had a friend who knew ASL and offered to interpret the main message for the two of them. After that first service, Julia said she liked the church and was interested in coming on a regular basis.
Since there were no ASL interpreters, we took it upon ourselves to start the deaf ministry and tried to find a way to interpret the entire service, instead of just the main sermon. Although I am not the most proficient, I decided to step up and do my best to interpret the praise and worship portion of the service for the following Sunday. I was able to find out the songs that were going to be sung and began practicing to make sure that I got it right. I enlisted the entire family to help me. To my surprise and delight, Julia said that she wanted to help by interpreting as well. Instead of me signing to the congregation, I would sign to Julia and she would sign to the congregation. I told my wife and our interpreter friend what Julia wanted to do and we all agreed that Julia would interpret one or two songs and that I would interpret the rest.
The next day, Julia got up and not only interpreted all of the songs but the Pastor’s prayer as well. We were all surprised at what she did (including the pastor), but in reality, we shouldn’t have been. My wife and I have always encouraged our children to be leaders.
In raising our children, we used four keys that helped to develop our children into leaders in their own right.
1. Lead by example
As former football Coach Jimmy Johnson once said, “If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.” My wife and I understand that children may not always listen to what we say but they always watch what we do. That is why it is always important for us to always try to do the right thing. Like anyone else, we make mistakes and when we do, it is important to own up to them and do what we can to correct it. The key is to always have your heart in the right place.
2. Make sure to explain the why
Growing up, a lot of parents would tell their child to do something because “I said so.” I was fortunate enough to have parents who not only would tell me to do something but would also take the time to explain why. I always appreciated that and now do the same for my children. Sometimes it is necessary for them to do something simply because I said so (especially when it comes to safety) but as soon as I can, I always explain why I am asking them to do something. I want them to understand that my goal is always to help them and that what they are doing now will help them later in life.
3. Always do your best
Growing up, my dad would always tell me that I needed to be better than my white counterparts if I wanted to accomplish my goals. He would always say “in order to get ahead in this world, you are going to have to be twice as good in order to get half as much.” He grew up during times of segregation and shared first-hand knowledge of his experiences. Years later, while working in my own career, I found this lesson to still be true (even when running my own business). In order to give yourself a chance, you must do your best. I teach that same lesson to my kids by demanding the best in whatever they do. Whether it be schoolwork or chores at home. Always do your best. It is a habit that will pay off in the long run.
4. It’s ok to fail, just be sure to get back up
At some point in life, you will fail. That’s just a fact. I tell my children that in order to accomplish anything, there are times when you must take a risk. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t but as long as you try, you never really fail (you still gain lessons that will help you the next time). Recently, my son decided to try out for the track team for the very first time. At his first track meet, he came in last (or close to last) in his events. Needless to say, he was disappointed. The very next day, he started asking me to take him to the track so that he could practice on his own. His work paid off and he started seeing his times improve. At the next meet, he didn’t win any of his events, but he was much closer to the leaders than before. His work was noticed by his coaches and teammates and he now knows that if he doesn’t give up, one day he will win. Not bad for someone who has only practiced for a few weeks.
These lessons are ways to develop character and as any leader will tell you, Character is the key to leadership. When children develop character, they will naturally develop into leaders.
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