Raising Our Daughters to Become Leaders

What is your dream for your daughter?  What is her dream for herself?  From a young age, our daughters’ dreams need to be encouraged and cultivated so that the next generation of young women have the self-confidence and education that will allow them to become whatever it is that they aspire to be—a doctor, teacher, artist, scientist, engineer, writer, school principal, lawyer, therapist, coach, advertising exec, tech entrepreneur, or a CEO.  One of the most important traits my husband and I hope to instill in our daughters is leadership.  Our intention is to raise girls who are self-confident and brave, who feel comfortable taking risks and taking action, and who are not afraid of failing.  We hope to raise girls that can make positive choices for their own lives, who can lead and inspire others, who can work cooperatively and in a team.  Our DREAM is that our daughters will have a lifelong love of learning, that they’ll think thoughtfully and critically about the world around them and that they will strive to make a positive impact.

In researching leadership for this post, I came across the book, Women in Power: The Secrets of Leadership.  Authors Dorothy Cantor and Toni Bernay examined family influences during the childhoods of 25 women who were later elected to high political office in the United States during the 1980s. The women interviewed were the first females in either party to assume roles as senators, governors, or members of Congress. The two psychologists cited five powerful messages that these successful female political leaders received in their early years that may have accounted for their success:

You are loved and special.

You can do anything you want.

It is okay to take risks.

You can use and enjoy your creative aggression.

You are entitled to dream of greatness.

I LOVE that!  I think I am going to write out those five lines on a poster board and hang it in our daughters’ room!

In a Forbes magazine article Ruth N. Bramson, CEO of the Girls Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, talks about the importance of explicitly teaching leadership to young girls.  “If we are to build a strong new generation of female leaders, we need to introduce girls early on to topics of science and math and engineering and encourage them to explore these fields.  Around the world and across our nation, young women are gaining the education and work experience needed to enrich public opinion, affect national policies and influence global change.  Fifty-seven percent of those enrolled in US colleges are women. Nearly fifty percent of the US workforce is women creating more opportunities than in the past to increase their numbers in professional leadership positions.”

Here is a list of 5 things that you can do to prepare your daughter to become a leader:

1.  Education!  Education opens doors and opportunities.  Get involved in your daughter’s school life.  Volunteer your time at your daughter’s school, create a positive relationship with your child’s teacher, support your daughter’s academic interests and encourage her efforts (not only her academic achievement). 

2. Encourage her to play sports.  A child can learn so much from playing a sport or competing on a sports team.  We all know that we learn as much from winning as we do from loosing.  What happens if your daughter isn’t interested in sports?  Consider an activity like the Girl Scouts.  The Girl Scouts focus on developing girls with courage, confidence and character and their program cultivates leadership skills like teamwork, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

3.  Teach your daughter to be accountable.  Leaders are tenacious and have developed stick-to-itiveness!  As children, they were encouraged to try despite the possibility of failure, to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions (positive and negative), to be gracious and humble when they are successful, to recognize, encourage and thank the people who’ve helped them achieve their goals, and to share the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

4.  Teach your daughter to volunteer.  Leaders give the most valuable thing we have: our time. Through volunteering, even young girls have the opportunity to improve lives and to make positive changes in their local community.

5. Highlight female role models.  There are female role models everywhere!  Talk to your daughters about the women you know who have created successful careers and authentic lives for themselves in a variety of fields.  Highlight the women they see in their everyday lives like their pediatrician, the small business owner who lives down the block, the PTA president at their school, and the women who hold elected office in your city and state.  Consider reading Brad Meltzer’s book, Heroes for My Daughter.  Brad profiles the lives of fifty-five remarkable individuals (not all women), from intellectuals such as Marie Curie, Sally Ride, and Jane Goodall to sports champions like Billie Jean King, and public figures such as Rosa Parks.

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