Understanding Leadership Lessons from the 6th Grade

6th Graders

Some of the most exciting and rewarding sessions I delivered this year were the ones I facilitated to sixth graders at a local school.  

These kids grasped as much about leadership as almost all of the adults I train.

Understanding Leadership Lessons

Each time I had the honor to work with these young leaders, I was amazed by how quickly they grasped the same leadership concepts that I share with adults during my leadership development seminars.

Whether talking about personality types and trust, or more complex concepts like managing conflict and providing honoring feedback, these pre-teen participants were able to understand the material and carry on in-depth discussions on how the material applied to their own relationships.

Understanding Youth

As a parent of a 12 year old myself, I have personally experienced the negative effects that bullying and conflict have had on my daughter.

I was expecting that concepts like using authority to bully others would make sense to them.

What I did not expect was to see them quickly and easily connect leadership with the ideas of managing or leading teams away from conflict and not letting our own negativity bias influence our actions.  To them, this seemed perfectly logical.

This is quite different from the skepticism and cynicism some adults, and even college students, express when they attend my sessions.

Understanding Truth

Instead of spending valuable time challenging me on basic concepts such as avoiding assumptions and being open to others’ strengths, these young leaders focused on finding parallels between the concepts we were discussing and historical figures like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

More importantly, they were open and motivated to lead in similar ways themselves!

Understanding Teachers

In bringing the leadership lessons to the classroom of 6th-graders, the teacher was fantastic!

It was wonderful to see how the sixth grade teacher Ms. Chapman jumped at the opportunity to contextualize the material and relate it to real projects and current issues in the class or the school.

She played a critical role as she incorporated the material into their curriculum before the session.

Once the session started, the students were completely prepared for the material and eager to engage.

Understanding Adults

These children provided another big contrast to some of the adults that come to my sessions, with their long faces and eagerness to tell me why the session will be a waste of time (after their bosses have invested hours of valuable time to help them prepare).

After each session, the teacher used the material for the rest of the semester and even used the leadership terminology during graduation. It was incredibly rewarding to see how she recognized the students’ ability to lead during the ceremony.

Her comments were funny at times, serious at others, and always meaningful.

Their comments were priceless!

Understanding the Big Picture

During the sessions, follow-up conversations, meetings and graduation, I was intrigued by many of the comments made by the students as they shared their views on leadership.  I made it a point to capture some of their most meaningful observations.

I have tried to quote them as closely as possible, as their choice of words made the remarks all the more special. I only wish you were able to hear these words in those gentle young voices.

Here are a few priceless comments from these wise leaders:

  • Leadership is showing that you can get others to accomplish something special or hard
  • Doing my best work at all times and being OK when I am not at my best
  • Seeing the best in others instead of being mean
  • Keep in mind a person’s strengths even when they make me mad
  • Collecting information in an organized way and performing well under pressure
  • If I am wrong, I learn something.
  • Social responsibility is being loyal to your friends
  • We had been complete BFFs when I was 10 and she was 11, and then she drifted apart… Now I am friends with her and all her friends too.
  • Leadership is getting things done and having fun

There are lessons we can only learn from children, and I learned many during these fantastic sessions.  One of the highlights of my year was when two parents came up to me at a school event with wide smiles and said:

“We are Warriors!!!  Our son told us all about what we do!”

Understanding Inspiration

They were referring to the Medicine Wheel activity I conducted with their son’s class.  Their words of encouragement and excitement about doing leadership development with students of this age group inspired me to maximize the number of sessions I facilitate with young students in 2013 and in the future.

I would love to know about any leadership lessons you may have learned from a child.  Do you have any good leadership stories that involve children?   Looking forward to your comments!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web

Image Sources: garland1965.com


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