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Training Teens to Be Leaders

Teen LeadersYou know what they say; behind every great leader stands a proud parent.  But great leaders don’t just happen.  People who stand tall on their own two feet are often the result of a family who poured into their lives and helped them develop the necessary skills to take charge and bring others with them.  But I’m sure there are some parents who will say, “Hey Mark, my teen will never be a leader!  He can’t run his own life, let alone guide anyone else’s.”  But before we jump into “never” situations, perhaps it would help to clarify what we are talking about.

What is a Leader?

Sure, your son or daughter might not be the type to run a country or occupy the corner office, but these types of professions and occupations don’t encompass all that it means to be a leader.  You don’t have to have an impressive title or an official position to be a leader.  Instead, leaders are those who have learned to govern themselves.  They’re not mindless followers.  Leaders are secure in what they know is right and will walk in that truth regardless of whether others come along.  Leaders can be fun, but they also gain respect.  Those around them understand that this is someone they can trust and perhaps look up too.  That’s the type of person we want our sons and daughters to become.  Studies show that kids who exhibit leadership qualities are less likely to participate in substance abuse, pre-marital sex, school delinquency, and self-harm.  Training your teen to become a leader not only builds character, but it protects your child from the destructive forces that can veer them off course.

So how does a mom or dad start cultivating a leader in their home?

Set the Example

Here’s the truth—like many character qualities, leadership is caught, not taught.  If you want your teen to become a leader by taking charge of their actions and attitudes, you, Mom or Dad, have to model how.  So let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you respect and honor your spouse in the home?
  • Do you care for other people?
  • Are you a safe and responsible driver?
  • How do you act towards those who are in need, but cannot do anything for you?
  • How do you respond when you’re wronged or insulted?
  • Are you insecure, and always sharing your opinion or trying to make yourself sound better than you are?

Tough questions, I know.  But if we honestly examine our own words and actions, we may discover that we’re not being the type of leaders our children can look up to.  Training a teenager to be a leader begins with you!  Show them how to lead when others follow, to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.  Exhibit how to treat others with respect.  Display poise under pressure.  Model perseverance even when the chips are down.  Your kids will learn how to be leaders by watching you.

Set the Mentality

This goes hand-in-hand with modeling leadership to your teen.  To raise a future leader in your home, start to develop a leadership mentality.  Begin by asking, “What does it mean to lead?”  Sit down and write out the specific traits your teen wants to build into his life.  It could be learning to stand up for weaker people.  Or being more assertive.  Or striving to take more initiative for homework, for their schedule, or in their small jobs.  Once the list is made up, post it somewhere for the whole family to see and strive towards.

You know, often times as parents, we focus on the negative traits in our kids.  It’s a natural by-product of guiding and correcting them.  But we also need to balance that with a healthy dose of positive affirmation when teens get it right.  When you see your son or daughter practicing leadership skills, stop whatever you’re doing and affirm them then and there.  In this way, you’ll create an environment where leadership is noticed, practiced, and rewarded.  That’s what I mean by setting a leadership mentality.

Be Proactive

Maybe your teen is struggling with motivation right now.  It’s difficult to get her out of her room some days, let alone guide her into being a leader.  The truth is, raising a leader will be easier with some teens and harder with others.  Personality, temperament, hobbies and interests all factor in.  That’s why I encourage all parents to be proactive.  It’s not enough to sit on our hands and wait for our children to become leaders all on their own.  Get creative about ways to develop those traits in your child.

A simple (and time-tested) method is to give your teen chores to accomplish.  Tasks like feeding the dog, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, vacuuming the living room and making dinner once a week build responsibility and accountability in your teen.  Contributing to the family can give them a sense of ownership and appreciation.

Also, encourage your child to use his gifts to help others.  I know a few mature, young guys who excel in soccer, football, baseball, and basketball, and are involved coaching younger kids on the mechanics of these sports.  Knowing that these youngsters look up to them drives them to become better leaders and to live up to their calling.  Maybe your daughter is musically inclined, and can give piano lessons at the rec center or help in the lower grades’ band classes.  Or perhaps your teen can get involved in Sunday School at church and develop their leadership qualities there.

Be creative in your approach.  Have a “good deed” week, where you challenge everyone in the family to take the lead in helping someone else.  If someone looks lost, give them directions.  Offer to help carry something for a person overloaded with bags.  Spend some time with someone who can offer you nothing in return.  If everyone in the family completes a good deed that week, celebrate with a night out at the family’s favorite restaurant.  Building leadership doesn’t have to be boring.  Make the process exciting and worthwhile, and your teens will run towards it!

Remember the Big Picture

Obviously, training a teen to become a leader is beneficial not only for the child, but for parents as well.  But in the midst of your training, remember to keep the big picture in mind.  It’s really not about us as moms and dads.  We want to instill leadership qualities in our kids in order that they may better serve the Lord.

Joshua was just a young adult when Moses took him under his wing and made him his protégé.  Moses knew that the only way Joshua could become a worthy leader of Israel was by learning how to better follow God.  And it was evident that Moses’ strategy had worked when Joshua declared in front of the entire nation, “choose for yourselves whom you will serve … But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

That’s a statement that we want to hear echoed in the mouths of our sons and daughters.  So begin today to instill leadership qualities in your child, realizing that it will equip them not only govern themselves and lead others, but also prepare them to make a difference for the Lord.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.