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Why Raising Kids To Be Leaders Is Simple But Not Easy

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What is the single most important facet of your relationship with your child, which helps them develop strong leadership skills?

I have a peculiar insight into leadership. I’ve never heard anyone else express it, although I’m sure many must have.  It is that the most effective path to successful leadership is to be consistently right.

The new lieutenant commands “charge!” The troops are hesitant, but they follow orders. The charge is a success.  Next time he shouts “charge” there is less hesitation. After another success, they follow orders immediately, all hesitation vanished.

If the charge fails, hesitation returns, very strongly, and it endures for a long time.

Early in my career I was frustrated by my inability to lead others into doing what was right. (This was not in the military, but in developing challenging and demanding physics research projects.)  As years passed, it turned out to be easier and easier, as my projects succeeded.

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I don’t know if this criterion is taught in “leadership classes” and maybe it’s all wrong, but it explains the leadership that I followed early on (that of Luis Alvarez and Dick Garwin, my 2 most important mentors), and the leadership “ability” I developed as my career developed. After a few wild physics successes, I discovered all sorts of people listening carefully to my ideas, even my crazy ones, and wanted to follow my lead.

Equally important was for me to be the first to realize that I was on a wrong path. I had to admit it and had to withdraw the project. Sometimes the right form of leadership is to order a retreat.

This is what I have tried to teach my children: don’t worry too much about whether people are following you, but about whether you are right. Are you doing the right thing, a thing that is best for everyone? If you can’t be sure (no lieutenant knows for sure the charge will succeed), are the odds good? What is the downside? Is the risk worth taking, for you, and for potential followers?

Richard Muller is a professor of physics at UC Berkeley and the author of “Energy For Future Presidents.” You can read more from Quora here: