Getting Your Kids College- AND Life-Ready!
By Dilip Saraf on 21 Dec 2014
As a career coach I get many requests from parents during this time of the year when high-school students and degreed graduates are dealing with deadlines for college-admission applications. They often seek my help in choosing a career path and then colleges that will best prepare them for their career choice. Although some deadlines have already passed, many still lie ahead through the next several months for students to submit their applications for the Fall 2015 admissions.
The other day, I was a part of an event organized to help the parents of college-bound kids with some practical information about getting into the right college and how to deal with some of the challenges that the parents are likely to encounter throughout their kids’ college years. Of course, they came with their college-bound kids, participating vigorously in the proceedings, asking questions, sharing their experiences, and offering their insights.
One theme that struck me throughout the proceedings was how many parents were eager to see their kids emerge as leaders. They asked questions like, What does my son need to do to prove his leadership?; how should they find a role in their college days to emerge as future leaders, etc. Interestingly, all of these questions came from the parents, and not from the students themselves, which puzzled me. In some way, I felt that these parents were vicariously trying to re-live their missed-out past by trying to understand what they did not do to prove their own leadership early in their lives!
Anyway, those exchanges got me thinking and I came away with some reflections that are perhaps worth pondering about:
1. Anyone CAN aspire to be a leader. A leader is defined by who follows them; without followers there is no leader. A true leader is actually more defined by the quality of their followers than by anything else. So, stop being a leader for all occasions. It is OK to be a follower if you believe in a cause that your leader is espousing. Strong followers can contribute more to a cause by doing their role and to make the leader look good. There is nothing wrong with that! Besides, there is much to learn from following a strong leader and from making their initiative worthwhile.
2. Leadership comes from providing ideas and actions that are not obvious to others. So, formulating thoughts and articulating them for others to understand and to get excited about is a part of the leadership process. So, if a parent wants his child to become a leader they must provide them with the tools and resources so that they have the necessary wherewithal for what their leadership is going to demand from them.
3. Just having the desire to lead without the means can end up in a mutiny, even within your own self! Some of these tools are abilities to express in clear and confident language; elocutionary skills; reading, thinking, and communication vocabulary; persuasive powers; and empathy (EQ). Often, providing some great books of true leaders generally ignites a spark that helps the young get inspired about being a leader. Once again, that spark must come from within! So, don’t goad your kid to be a leader at every turn; let them discover their own leadership force!
4. Some develop their leadership late in life. Pushing someone to be a leader does not develop leadership, but it must come from within, instead. Yet another pernicious practice some parents often employ is invidious comparisons with their peers or even their siblings (Jimmy got into MIT, why can’t you?). Each kid is different. They deal with their growing in their own ways. Some are precocious and others, late bloomers. If you push your child to be a leader when they are not willing or ready to assume that role, then soon they will face the reality that forces them to retreat and accept defeat, which can not only build some resentment, but also develop diffidence, which they can carry with them for a long time. This resentment towards their parents for pushing their own agenda on their kids often results in deep psychological scars that stay throughout their adulthood. All a parent can do is to provide their child the right environment and the tools (from #2 and #3 above) and then letting their child discover their own path to grow. Let them grow at their own pace and not at the pace you want them to grow.
5. The best encouragement for a leader comes from their followers. It also comes from those who respond to their leadership, but who are not their followers. Providing an outside mentor to young leaders can be one of the best encouragements a parent can provide their child. If their child is struggling with their leadership identity parents can support them through their needs and provide the necessary support and understanding by speaking their child’s language. This is often hard for parents. Also, throughout their adolescence, teach them lessons of responsibility, accountability, and honoring their commitments.
6. When their child assumes a leadership role they also may encounter a setback now and then. Some exacting parents see this a “failure.” This is a mistake. When you are trying new things and discovering yourself there is no such thing as a failure; there is only learning.
A noted Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck, has done much research on mindset and motivation. She posits that a growth mindset can help anyone expand their mental reach, despite the limitations they perceive that will block their advancement (such as IQ or other “natural” gifts). If you succeed each time there is no learning; it also means that you are deep within your comfort zone! Someone with a Fixed Mindset will stay within their comfort zone without growth, whereas someone with a Growth Mindset will easily conquer new vistas, despite all obstacles. The best thing a parent can do when a “failure” occurs is to provide a non-judgmental advice to their child and encourage them to try another avenue to get done what they are after. (So, instead of saying “You Failed,” say, “Not Yet,” as Dweck points out in her TED talk) Choice of words alone can make a significant difference in how a person looks at what just happened. When we succeed we cannot often understand all the factors that caused us to succeed. As a result, we end up taking misplaced credit to congratulate ourselves.
7. Also, look at your adolescent as someone who can teach you a thing or two. Parents often do not have all the answers. Good answers are those that work in a situation, so foisting your own point of view on your child can often backfire. Learn to listen to your child and have an open dialog about things that matter to you both. Be non-judgmental. It takes more maturity to learn from an adolescent than most realize.
8. Learn how to have “non-transactional” chats with your kids. This is often hard for parents. They talk to their kids only when something is not going right. So, when a parent says, Jimmy, I want to talk to you about something, Jim’s hackles are raised and he is shut down even before presenting himself in front of his parent. But, if there is true exchange of mutual concerns and sharing of joys and sorrows, it is much easier to have an ongoing dialog with your child. Tell your kid about the stupid things you did as a child; show some vulnerability. The parents must show empathy towards their child and teach them about empathy towards others (EQ or emotional intelligence).
9. Participate in your child’s ongoing development such as attending their soccer practice, debating match, and other events where they participate to become a better leader. Encouraging them in those activities that are important to them, not to you, often helps build a bond, respect, and mutual trust.
10. School and degree are important, but are not everything! If your child has some other passions let them pursue these avenues. Look what Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zukerberg did. They did not finish their college. Yet, they went on to achieve something great for themselves. So, trust your kid to do what is right. Then just watch your kid grow and enjoy it!
Good luck to both, you and your kid!