I think it’s fair to say that many of you had an experience where leadership skills were lacking. Perhaps you’ve had a manager, boss, coach, or even a friend who handled you like you were a ‘subject’ to be told what to do. I’m curious: how did that make you feel?

Have you ever stopped to think of these qualities in your parenting style? Are you a leader or a dictator? And why is this important?

Leadership Qualities

Good leaders display several qualities that separate them from poor leaders. First, they lead by example and walk their talk. They carefully consider how to teach, how-to guide and what systematic ways they can lead others responsibly. They don’t yell at others and expect them to remain calm. They don’t preach one message yet do something different. Leaders are good examples for their followers.

Leaders nurture a positive vision and keep their focus there. Children need parents who have a vision of just how good the family can be. How much can they contribute to their community? How hard can they work on the soccer field? How much love is possible when you really commit your life to it? Good leaders bring a vision of possibility into the home and inspire their children to become better.

This vision also incorporates the understanding that children must be allowed to learn through making choices, and if we control every choice, then no learning occurs. As part of this, however, leaders also know how to hold their families accountable. Without accountability, there is no growth; it’s just talking. Parents who are good leaders for their families find ways to create simple systems to hold their children accountable for being their best.

Dictator Qualities

The Dictator is really the controller of all things good and right in the home. Do it my way…and everything will be okay. Many of us are familiar with this role as it sounds something like this:

  • “Get your shoes on.”
  • “Put the IPad away.”
  • “Go get your bookbag.”
  • “Eat your vegetables.”
  • “Clean up your toys.”
  • “Leave your sister alone.”
  • “Stop that now and do what I said!”
  • “Go change your clothes, comb your hair and brush your teeth.”

This may seem like second nature to many of you. Despite the exhausting, frustrating, and somewhat brain-deadening nature of these never-ending instructions, we often believe that it’s necessary.

But it’s not! It’s all about an ultimately failing effort to control children rather than guiding or teaching them.

Children Thrive On Leadership—Not Control!

In the moment of the daily rush of things, it appears that the controlling Dictator is absolutely essential. And it’s probably reasonable to argue that very early on in your toddler’s life, these instructions were helpful.

But with the perspective of time, we begin to see that the Dictator must work harder and harder at controlling things. In fact, as children age, we see more “dependence” where there should be emerging independence. Mom and Dad should be working themselves out of the Dictator role, but they are stuck! It seems that they have more and more work to do.

The Dictator assumes that they must make everything happen at home. The moment that there is no progress in getting ready or completing an assignment, or getting through dinner, the Dictator takes over and starts instructing. In fact, the Dictator tends to start ‘dictating’ even before there is a lack of progress.

Here is where the problem really emerges: the Dictator’s role appears to be needed because things aren’t moving along as the Dictator would prefer. Yet, the Dictator has no system of parenting in place, no consistent game plan for teaching better behavior, or more responsible behavior. Instead, they default to ‘controlling’ the situation. As children age, we notice that the children who are “dictated to” the most seem to become more dependent on their parents rather than more independent.

The problem becomes evident when the 12-year-old has to be asked 10 times to brush his teeth, Mom still soothes the 10-year-old’s tantrums that never go away, and the teenager still can’t fix her lunch. We see competent children become more and more helpless, seemingly forgetting the most basic lessons they have learned. Many times, these ‘over-dictated to’ children appear absolutely helpless and unable to make a decision without mom or dad telling them what to do next.

Bottom line: Minimal strength, self-esteem, or independence is nurtured under the Dictator’s watch. Learn to lead through managing a system of parenting, which uses few words to control behavior. Words are great for a lot of things…just not for managing behavior. If you make this switch, your home will be lighter and your kids happier and more responsible. Guaranteed!