Cultivating Leadership


5 ways to develop students’ initiative

By Sr. Patricia M. McCormack, IHM, EdD

INITIATIVE is the inner ability to take charge of a task, project, or event. It is the capacity to begin tasks without requiring the coaxing of another person. LEADERSHIP is a by-product of initiative.

A person with a developed sense of initiative assumes personal responsibility and is energized by a challenge rather than paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake.

Initiative begins during the preschool years as children invent games, devise rules, explore, creatively occupy themselves, and interact with others. Occasional setbacks happen to everyone. Such experiences can turn positive if they teach how to fine-tune initiative skills. If most occasions of self-starting have positive results, a sense of DIRECTION and PURPOSE take root within the child.

Model initiative skills:
Promote exposure to varied experiences.
Provide materials, tools, and resources that support varied interests.
Answer questions patiently and respectfully.
Enforce natural consequences.
Establish reasonable standards and deadlines.
Demonstrate freedom balanced with responsibility and the needs of the common good.
Intervene only when a child infringes on the rights of another or engages in behavior that could result in moral or mortal harm of self or others.
Model recovery after mistakes.
Create to-do lists. Check off completed tasks.

Cultivate a culture of initiative:

Mentor versus Manage: Let your child plan ideas for schoolwork, contests, and projects. Help them plan a timeline, but let the planning and accomplishment be theirs. Work together on challenging tasks; then coach, decreasing active presence; and finally let the child assume full responsibility.

Value IDEAS and PROCESS more than PRODUCT. Acknowledge when a child demonstrates creativity, ingenuity, timeliness, or forethought. Discuss the importance of time management, teamwork, and distribution of labor in a group project.

Prepare your child to assume responsibility for school: meeting deadlines; bringing lunch, supplies, and projects to school; returning school communications on time; and accepting the consequences of action or inaction. Resist the temptation to bring your child’s forgotten items to school.

Instill Commitment: By grade 5, if your child expresses interest in learning a new skill (such as piano, guitar, dance, or team sports), set expectations and encourage them to begin. Stress the importance of completion. If your child feels the need for a reduced activity load and chooses to quit an activity, discuss the best way the child can communicate the decision to those involved.

Image credit: Shutterstock 95044402

Image credit: Shutterstock 95044402

Download a printable version of this article to share with parents.

Sr. Patricia McCormack, IHM, EdD is an international consultant and public speaker on issues of whole-person formation.

Image credit: Shutterstock 95044402

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Cultivating Leadership
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