Leading the Way

The latest 'Daddy Derek' column

have enjoyed leadership roles for as long as I can remember. From always wanting to lead the line in elementary school, joining student council in middle school, being elected president of our middle school Tech Education class, and leading my high school’s very own TV show, I’ve always looked to lead. I’m sure my teachers always warned my new teachers how to handle me. “You have Derek. He’s smart and knows how to get people on his side, but he’ll take over the class if you let him.” That may have happened on one or two occasions — or 50.

Now that my two boys are getting to the later years of elementary school, they too are starting to look for ways to be leaders. Thus far, they both seem to be going about it in ways a bit subtler than I did. My younger son Chase is that kid in the class who helps his teacher or a classmate without being asked while in the process also getting the class involved.

Tyler, my older son, is also willing to help, but he may also try to get something for himself out of the deal. He’s the kind of kid you have to worry about accepting something (insert middle school contraband here) under the table in exchange for his assistance with, say, someone’s math homework. 

Whereas I was more than willing to take responsibility for the outcome of a project, especially the kudos, my sons seem to prefer a more low-profile approach: think senior manager over CEO. This fall, Tyler applied to be on his school’s safety patrol. As part of the selection process, he had to write a few sentences about why he thought he’d be a good choice for the role. He explained that kids look up to him, that he is responsible and that he would try his best. Because he made that effort to write a short paragraph when others didn’t, he got the gig (and a trip to Carowinds later in the school year).

He was also selected by his teacher as the first Star Student award winner for being a silent leader and doing what needed to be done without having to be told to do so. Last year, Chase was voted Terrific Kid in his class for one month. The focus was on citizenship. While it’s great to receive recognition for leadership, both my boys understand that the actions themselves are the most satisfying part. Awards are just the cherry on top. 

Let your kids know that being a leader isn’t about being the boss or about always being perfect. Instead, it’s about getting people to communicate their ideas clearly, about celebrating that diversity of thought, and getting things done in a fair and timely fashion. And that it’s about putting down the devices to actually talk to each other. It’s also about learning patience in a world that often is lacking in that regard. It’s about encouraging hard work instead of the easy way out. It’s about learning to negotiate when it seems like no one wants to budge.

I have no idea what my boys will do when they grow up, but regardless of their career choices, I’m confident that they will have a good amount of leadership experience. That experience can pay off as good leaders at home, at church and in the community, and that’s better than being the boss. As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m especially thankful for valuable lessons and bright futures for my children.


Derek James is a host of WCCB News Rising, and dad to Tyler, 10, and Chase, 8.