Your son will take his cues from you. Make sure you’re sending him the right signals.
In order to lead, you must be confident. But confidence doesn’t come easy — if it did, it’d just be arrogance. Confidence comes from knowing that when the chips are down, you’ll get the job done. If you believe in yourself, others will as well.
The Seeds of Leadership
Leadership largely depends on the environment in which it’s planted. At the age of 19, my seeds for leadership were sewn printing T-shirts in a 30,000-foot warehouse with no air conditioning.
Did I mention I was the only one who spoke English? Yeah, I stuck out like a sore thumb and, yes, my thumbs were indeed sore.
I aspired for more than just grunt work, but eight hours a day in a giant sauna can shake anyone’s resolve. I knew I could run my own T-shirt department; all I needed was the chance to prove it. Because opportunity isn’t something you can control, I took care of what I could by outworking everyone.
Luckily enough, my time to shine presented itself in the form of a custom order requiring a very specific type of ink — one that only I had any experience working with. I stepped up to the plate and helped the order go from a potential fiasco to a big success.
That next week, the CEO of the company took me to lunch and asked me if I wanted to lead a brand new printing division. Sore thumbs and all, I accepted.
The Next Generation of Confidence
Regardless of accomplishments, instilling confidence in your son can’t come by referencing your success. He needs to be able to find his confidence from within; he has to be able to prove it to himself.
A father who wants his son to lead needs to let him struggle on his own at first. Sports are a great way to start this journey because they’re the ultimate meritocracy. Timid, self-conscious players aren’t revered in sports — they are avoided like the plague.
Athletes want teammates who are confident and strong. With the risk of injury that sports carry, it’s that much more important for competitors to trust that when the going gets tough, team members have their backs.
My time in the U.S. Marine Corps taught me that different types of leadership apply to different situations. This is why, unless someone is in danger, I don’t often advocate Marine-style leadership. Outside of the military, it can come off as cold and callous.
That said, new cultural expectations for boys haven’t changed the way they’re wired: They still yearn to be accepted by other men, to be challenged, and to be validated.
A boy looks to his father to understand his role in society. Here are four confidence builders a dad can use to develop his son’s leadership qualities as his son grows into manhood:
- Believe in your children. Part of learning to fly is making mistakes; that is why it’s so important for a father (and mother) to encourage and support a son’s efforts to gain independence. The best lesson a father can use in guiding his dependent son is to ensure his son isn’t able to shift his natural responsibility to take care of himself back onto his father.
- Give them the reins. To put it bluntly, unless your son can learn to get his own head out of the fence, he’ll just end up stuck there again tomorrow. We build confidence by overcoming adversity — at times, that trouble is self-inflicted. However, the bigger the obstacle, the more confidence your son gains when he overcomes it.
- Follow your instincts. As a parent, go with your gut, and stay true to your decisions. It takes time, patience, and a staunch commitment to see things through; all of these traits are true tests of your leadership. Calling back to my days at the printing factory, I trusted that even with hundreds of voices buzzing around me — voices that claimed to “know better” — I was the one who “knew best.”
- Chart a course, and follow it. Leaders don’t back down. They to their values and their principles — like honesty, trust, accountability, kindness, patience, respect, and hard work. If I didn’t believe in myself, I’d likely still be in that 30,000-foot sweatbox working for someone else.
Bottom line: Your son will take his cues from you. Make sure you’re sending him the right signals. Fathers have an influential hand in the kinds of men their sons become. If you equip him with the right tools, the possibilities are limitless.
Photo: Getty Images