How Can Parents Inspire Leadership?

by Alli Polin on June 24, 2014

Parent's Guide to Leadership - How to Inspire Leadership in Children

This morning none of us wanted to get out of bed to start the day.  There was a chill in the air and the covers were cozy.  Still, the kids had to get to school, I had to get working and we all had to get moving.

We stayed quiet, lazily resting, until the very last moment when we all knew we had to move or be late for school drop off.  That’s when I started furiously racing around trying to get them into action.  I was not a mindful parent-leader, focused on how parents inspire leadership, I was in full stress mode and leading the push to get us all out of the door.

Where are your socks?
Did you brush your teeth?
Put a long sleeve shirt on under your uniform – it’s cold!  (Hello, Australian winter!)

My kids quickly got grumpy and started to disagree with me.

I don’t want to wear jeans!
You always tell me to brush my teeth!
I’ll wear a jacket!

Enough!  I told them: Guys, I’m trying to help.  You do what you think is right.  

I walked into my room to get myself ready and shut the door. As I brushed my own teeth, I was grumbling to myself.  I give them advice because I love them, they do their own thing.  I tell them what to do, they do their own thing.  I demand they do it my way, they do their own thing.  How do I get through to these kids?  How can I be a parent who inspires leadership and not one that forces outcomes?

They Have Minds of Their Own – Imagine That!

I admit, a big part of me really wants my children to always be well behaved and do what I tell them to do without a fight.  Realistically, that’s an unlikely event in our house.  As parents, we often get down on our kids because they have a mind of their own.  It feels like instead of hearing a word we say, they just do what they want to do.  Many parents, like many leaders inside of organizations, try to break people down to get them to comply.  Is compliance really what we’re after?  What if we, changed our frame to ask, “How can parents inspire leadership instead of trying to control people and outcomes?”

Get Ready to Be Surprised

A few minutes later, I opened the door and was met by two kids and their enormous hugs.  My son was wearing his long sleeve shirt, teeth were brushed and they were ready for breakfast.  I walked away and they made good choices,  imagine that. They didn’t do exactly what I told them to do or suggested, but they heard the important parts and acted on it.

I got through to them because I made strong suggestions AND gave them the space to do their own thing.  However, I’m not going to lie, it seems like there are hundreds of times a day that my words fall flat and do not influence their behavior at all.  Still, it’s our job as parents and educators to not give up on children just because they act out or don’t do what we tell them to do.

Parents are role models for their kids as they become future leaders.

I don’t want to teach my children to stand over someone constantly saying “Do this, not that.”  It can be challenging, but also much more effective to share, give suggestions and then give someone the space to do, think and be.  Fostering personal leadership in the next generation requires us to let kids make mistakes, learn and grow, not only to protect them and make all of their choices for them.  Truly, parents inspire leadership when they do one of the toughest things out there, let go and let their children learn to lead.

My advice to leaders and parents:

  • Share your knowledge, experience and suggestions and then let people make their own choices (and they will not always be good choices).  Let them learn that choices have consequences.
  • It’s OK to walk away, just don’t disappear.  Be accessible, not overbearing.
  • Your people have got this – what they need from you is trust.  Believe in your team. 
  • Recognize strengths instead of only reprimanding bad behaviors.  What gets recognized gets repeated. 

We need to raise a generation of people who will make strong choices, not only because they want to be popular, but also because they have the confidence to choose what’s right for them.  Learning to make thoughtful and empowered choices starts small and it starts young.  It’s essential that they know it’s their responsibility to consider possibilities, make decisions and take action.

Whether in the home or at the office, by acting mindfully, we can cultivate a generation of thinkers and choosers… not blind do-ers. 

What’s your experience?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

Are you a parent or educator who wants to inspire leadership in children?

Download your free copy of the Parent’s Guide to Leadership written in partnership with Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders.  It’s filled with practical tips, engaging activities and creative approaches that you can use immediately. You’ll also receive updates on our upcoming children’s picture book, I’m Not a Leader.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Brooks Kimmel June 24, 2014 at 6:53 am

Alli- I have 2 suggestions to add to the great advice you provide here:

1. Catch your kids doing something right every day!
2. Let your kids fail now and then. Don’t always be there to catch them. Recovering from failure teaches all sorts of unique life lessons that can be applied in the future!



Alli Polin June 24, 2014 at 10:00 am

Thanks for your comment, Barbara!

Excellent additions. Recovering from failure is a life lesson that can only be learned by going through it.

Love you also added to catch them doing something right. The more we can tell them that we see their goodness, the more likely they’ll be to see it in themselves too. (not to mention they’ll hopefully continue to do the good stuff!)



Chery Gegelman June 24, 2014 at 7:02 am

Woo Hoo! Congratulations on the E-Book! You do such a great job of merging parenting with leadership! …And even though I am not a parent, I always think that on those really tough parenting days, it has to be encouraging for parents view their job with fresh eyes… As a leadership development coach!


Alli Polin June 24, 2014 at 10:02 am

Thanks, Chery! Karin and I are not only excited about the ebook but also the soon to be published children’s book.

Funny how so much comes back to inspiring leadership!

Appreciate you!


Terri Klass June 24, 2014 at 8:25 am

Congratulations Alli on this amazing E-book!! Parents who empower their children to make decisions on their own based on concrete knowledge raise the most independent citizens!

I love the post and the amount of patience and belief you instill in your kids. They are so blessed to have you for their “mum” and model impeccable leadership.

Here’s to many more books!!!!


Alli Polin June 24, 2014 at 10:04 am

I truly do believe in my children and am working on the patience thing 😉

Empowering our children to embrace their personal leadership will support them to grow up and become empowered adults who hopefully do the same with their teams, colleagues and children.

Talk about role models! I look at you!

Thanks, Terri!


John Bennett June 24, 2014 at 9:09 am

Quoting: “Fostering personal leadership in the next generation requires us to let kids make mistakes, learn and grow, not only to protect them and make all of their choices for them.” Again, choices are the key for both parents / educators and young people! Everyone has to learn effectively how to make choices!!! And of course, no one ever makes the best choice every time – especially (but not limited to) inexperienced young people. That’s where the reflection on what would have worked better (and why) must be the next step. Better yet, when possible, is seeking information (yes, considering: ) including advice from those with more knowledge and experience is important. Again, quoting: “It’s OK to walk away, just don’t disappear. Be accessible, not overbearing.”

Great post as usual! Thanks for the e-book.


Alli Polin June 24, 2014 at 10:33 am

Many thanks to you, John! You always add so much to the conversation. It’s true, not one of us consistently makes good choices but it’s learning from the good and the bad that will make all the difference in what we do next. Supporting people to reflect and not react is critical for leaders, parents and educators.

Like with any job, knowing what to do and doing it are two different things. Hopefully this book will inspire some intentional practice.



Tom Rhodes June 24, 2014 at 9:27 am


Congratulations on the e-book. I think parenting is the ultimate Servant leadership. We guide, we suggest, we have the difficult conversations and then we let them grow. We be there when they need us, we ask questions to help them make good decisions, they we watch a learn from them about how to live.

Parenting and leadership, one in the same.

Great stuff as always,


Alli Polin June 24, 2014 at 10:38 am

Many thanks, Tom! We do so much for our children but truly the biggest thing we can do is to help them become compassionate, caring, value-centric adults.

I learn daily from my children about my own leadership and am stretched and challenged along the way. Hopefully this ebook will be a resource for many.

Thank you!!


Jon Mertz June 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

Congratulations on the e-book, Alli! Getting the choices and consequences opportunities right plus giving them room to step up into responsibilities are essential. I also think that parents/leaders need to set the bar by our examples and by challenging them to do more in better ways. I will download your book and find out what other wisdom you offer… you always inspire and challenge in what you say. Thank you! Jon


Alli Polin June 24, 2014 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Jon! I think it’s easy to forget that it’s not about what we SAY but what we DO that often is the most telling. We do set the bar as leaders and parents and we need to be aware when our words and deeds are out of alignment. By stretching ourselves it encourages others to do the same.

I truly appreciate your support!


Sage June 24, 2014 at 11:23 am

Love!!!! Beautiful piece! Thanks for inspiring this mom!


Alli Polin June 25, 2014 at 9:10 am

HUGE thanks to you, Sage! You are such a loving momma…. means so much!

Thank you!


Samantha Hall June 24, 2014 at 11:48 am

Congratulations on the new book children’s book coming out! That’s exciting! : )

What a great post that brings up another important topic. In my experience…meaning what I’ve seen in parents throughout my life and also including my own parenting (and having had to do it on my own since my husband died), I’ve noticed this belief system (I have it too on occasion) that our children are direct reflections of us in some way and this couldn’t be further from the truth!

I’ve read well meaning people say that if you raise a child with x,y,z, you are guaranteed to have well behaved, honest, respectful children that will then be a measure of pride on the parents that THEY did a good job!

Well…When we stop and think bout this…is it really true? Do we, as parents, most parents anyway, actually spend enough TIME with their child to even have that kind of impact anymore? How many hours a day do they spend in school? How many hours a day did they spend wanting tv? Playing video games? Surfing the internet? Playing with their friends? Nowadays, children don’t spend much time around their parents in real life and are being influenced by a ton of people and ideas that have nothing to do with the parents anymore. Unless a child is home schooled their entire life….

Children ARE individuals…they will turn out the way they turn out…they will not grow up to be perfect human beings that never make mistakes. No matter how much ‘character’ a parent may or may not have!

Have you ever heard the reference ‘the preachers kid’? That’s a perfect example! It’s a common stereotype that it’s generally the preachers kid that turns out to be the most rebellious more times then not! So character…or perhaps a better way to put it…’good intentions’ don’t guarantee much of anything.

People are not clones. They have their own temperaments, their own natures, their own unique personalities….and unless we FORCE them to comply…they certainly do have minds of their own!

I’ve struggled with the same thing at times with my girls even though I don’t have any boys. And they are both VERY different even though they both lost their father at the same time. Yet there was a 7 year age difference and the youngest was with him physically when he died. So their grief has been different too in many ways because of this. (this is just an example of how we can have children in the same family, grow up in the same house, yet turn out differently!)

No matter how much I didn’t WANT my children to suffer, or to have to hurt over living much of their childhood without a father, I haven’t been able to control those things. I also can’t control how they feel…the impact of his death, etc.

I can only do what I can with the knowledge I have…and what they are willing to share with me about their REAL thoughts and feelings…when THEY feel like it. Sometimes they don’t share right away….sometimes they may not share a real troublesome feeling for months and then finally share. Or it might come out during a stressful period etc.

As parents, I think it’s important that we let go of the false beliefs and ideas that we somehow control the choices that they will make IN THE FUTURE. There’s no way we can possible know and control any of that!

Anyway, what a great post and message for inspiring leadership in our kids instead of forcing them to comply. A challenge for most any parent these days!


Alli Polin July 22, 2014 at 5:53 am

Thank you for your incredible response to this post!!

Control really is an illusion, isn’t it? I can hardly control my son to get him to clean up his room – the idea that it’s up to me to make all of his choices and control his future is just absurd (although at times, the protector in me thinks it’s super tempting).

Today, my daughter had her first endurance swimming session and did a great job as she did lap after lap and I told her that if she continues to train hard, she can eventually swim at a competitive level. She looked me in the eye and said “but that’s not my dream.”

As parents, we need to let our kids become who they are meant to be, not who we want them to be.

I learn so much through your generous sharing of your experiences. I appreciate you, Samantha!!


LaRae Quy June 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Congrats on the ebook, Alli!

Like Chery, I don’t have children but I love the way you empower the next generation 🙂

Keep up the great work!


Alli Polin July 22, 2014 at 5:41 am

Thanks, LaRae! The best way to help future leaders grow is letting them lead – at work and at home.


Carl June 24, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Absolutely thrilled to read the news of your book – and today’s post was one more insightful example of the leadership needed in all aspects of life.

Thanks for sharing,
Best regards,


Alli Polin July 22, 2014 at 1:37 am

I appreciate your consistent support, Carl! Leadership and Parenting… both growing the next generation of leaders.

Many thanks to you!


Glenn June 25, 2014 at 9:53 am

Brilliant Advice Alli and congrats on your E-Book. Well done!

What we (impart) invest in our kids, will determine the outcome of their lives.

Continue to inspire, more importantly, continue to lead by example.

Regards and blessings,


Alli Polin July 22, 2014 at 1:36 am

What an important comment, Glenn! “What we (impart) invest in our kids, will determine the outcome of their lives.” This parenting thing is hard, important and beyond rewarding. Many thanks to you for your comment and insights, Glenn!


Ande Lyons June 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Woo Hoo Allie!

Congratulations on your eBook!

As a parent of TWO teenage young men, I can’t wait to read Parent’s Guide to Leadership – thank you for sharing it.

Your guidance is perfect for this wonderful Millennial Generation and generations to come.




Alli Polin July 22, 2014 at 1:35 am

Ande –

Thanks so much! It’s such a fine line between inspiring leadership and being the leader. Your boys have an amazing role model in you! Congratulations on your new business, Possibility Partners!




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