Developing Your Children’s Leadership Potential

Bong Baylon and family

For those who are concerned about the environment, this Chinese proverb makes a lot of sense: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” I believe this is also true for leaders. Developing leaders today is of utmost importance. Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, would always say, “Everyone wins when a leader becomes better.” But starting this process with adults can be very challenging.

I believe the best time to develop leaders is while they are young. Parents can make or break the leadership potential of children, either intentionally or unintentionally. Parents have a very strong influence upon their children from their childhood to their teenage years. This is a stewardship issue. Parents must take advantage of this window of opportunity before it’s too late. Once our children reach early adulthood, it will be hard to influence them. 

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
 They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck. 
(Prov. 1:8-9)

So how do we as parents take on the task of developing our children’s leadership potential?

Teach them about leadership through your actions, not just your words. Leadership is all about developing and using our earned credibility to influence others for the common good. Credibility is not something that we buy from the store; we earn it over time. Only through consistent leadership action, and not just through words, can we earn the right to influence others. That’s why learning to lead ourselves is the first step to becoming true leaders. Parents lose their credibility when they cannot even lead themselves. When they show by their actions that their bodily appetites, desires, or feelings determine their choices, they lose their ability to influence their children. Sadly, this is true in many homes today. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Tim. 3:10-11)

 Rely on God’s processing methods. Howard Hendricks once said, “Experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher!” In other words, leadership lessons are learned through reflection on actual experiences in our daily lives. These experiences can teach our children about leadership more than any other lesson they can learn from classes, seminars, and other controlled learning environments. Parents have a great advantage here since they have the most access to their children in the years they have with them, from the time they are born until they grow up to be adults. By paying attention, they can grab those sacred learning moments to help their children process their experiences.

I always counsel parents not to shield their children from the realities of life. They are not helping their children to develop courage, grit and perseverance. Instead they are creating a “fake” world for their children.

One way of helping children to process their experiences is to first ask them about their own interpretations about their experiences, and then to listen attentively, paying attention to such things, for example, as their concept of identity. Helping them to discover their true identity in Christ will help strengthen their character as potential leaders.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Jas. 1:2-4)

 Assign leadership roles and challenges to your children. While they are young, we must teach our children how to face various challenges. They must learn how to be creative, to figure things out on their own. Don’t be too quick to rescue them from difficulties. Give them actual challenging responsibilities, with real consequences, so that they will learn wisdom. Of course, we do not expose our children to something that is way beyond their capacity. Instead, we give them something that can stretch their faith and force them to rely on God, and not just on themselves. Protecting our children from responsibilities is tantamount to training them to become irresponsible in the future.

Depending on the age of our children, we can teach them how to use their gifts and talents to help others, especially their siblings. Being other-centered is the key characteristic of a servant leader. They can start with simple tasks to help another person. As a parent, you can also help them brainstorm some possible responses to various needs at home, or even in school. In this way, they can become more responsible and their leadership competencies will develop over time.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  (Jn. 6:5-6)

 Increase their responsibility after they have shown faithfulness with little things.

We need to teach our children the value of being faithful with little things. This is an important leadership principle. It’s also a biblical principle.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Lk. 16:10)

Leadership development starts with what is simple and easily accomplished. Then it moves up to more challenging circumstances. This is called improving leadership capacity. We can train our children to become good leaders by intentionally developing their ability to cope with greater complexities one step at a time.

Nurture their faith, hope and love. Instead of focusing on too many rules, focus on a few virtues. Teaching our children about faith, hope, and love is far more beneficial for them (and less stressful for us) than constantly hovering over their heads, waiting for them to transgress our laws. Faith, hope, and love will guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, helping them to live by grace through faith as they face the challenges of growing up. Faith in the Gospel, love for God and others that comes from a pure heart, and hope for the future with God – these virtues will protect them and help them to choose wisely. They will focus more on servanthood rather than on pampering themselves. Good leaders have these qualities fully embedded in their character.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)


When is the best time to develop leaders? Now is the best time. Do it while they are young.

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