Celebrate High School typography
Recognizing and Developing Leadership Potential in High Schoolers
Cheryl A. Bastian
are full of opportunities for our high schoolers to develop leadership skills. We simply need to tap into what’s taking place. As our high schoolers encounter situations, communicate with people, and gain experience, they learn more about who they are and the value they bring to their spheres of influence. In the process, character and soft skills are naturally formed.

Students develop leadership skills through real-life circumstances and interactions with people, and can be tailored to their individual interests, needs, and aspirations.

Opportunities that develop leadership skills include:

  • Job shadowing
  • Internships
  • Employment
  • Entrepreneurial endeavors
  • Community service

Through these, teens learn, serve, and work alongside professionals and mentors, people who know the cultures, trends, and trajectories of fields with which parents may not be familiar. High schoolers encounter situations that can cultivate interpersonal communication, teamwork, decision making, and problem solving and build resiliency, integrity, positivity, and flexibility. These are the soft skills employers seek, the qualities associated with influential leaders.

Encourage Strengths
Only a small percentage of high schoolers understand what their strengths, natural bents, and giftings are, and how they could benefit others or their career. Parents have a unique vantage point and place of influence to observe, call out, and affirm those traits in their teens. Having strengths affirmed by others is also incredibly helpful as high schoolers participate in experiential learning.

Then, we can offer suggestions and dialogue about how those giftings might be helpful to specific situations. This invites our teens to understand the value they can bring to a host site, supervisor, or place of employment. For example, the gift of organization may be utilized while restocking product or rearranging an office. An eye for color may be needed in digital editing or redecorating. Discernment may be helpful in seeing a need and addressing it, like folding clean towels, straightening a waiting area, or emptying trash cans without being asked.

Experiential learning allows our children to understand and refine their strengths and offers a deeper appreciation for how those giftings can be used to contribute. After that, influence continues to be discovered, bringing with it gratitude, positivity, and confidence.

high school students huddled up in a circle
Seek Opportunities
Research proves hands-on, experiential learning uses both sides of the brain and can yield as much as 75% retention rate. Students are motivated to use strengths that have been identified and understood. Pray with your teens, seeking how God might provide opportunities not only to use their giftings, but to impact the lives of others.

We’ve experienced God’s provision for our young adults as we’ve prayed together for venues where God could use their strengths or skill sets in a field of interest. One learner prayed for a chance to learn more about niche medical fields. Another prayed for employment to use her keen sense of spurring others toward personal development. Still another prayed for a professional musician interested in giving private lessons. Each prayer was answered, always with circumstances of which we marveled; some we never thought possible. God is that good. He loves our children, knows how they are gifted, and longs for them to use the gifts He’s fashioned in them for the good of the kingdom.

We encourage our high schoolers to observe and interact with the people around them when they are job shadowing, working, volunteering, or interning. This may include watching how managers handle employees or staff, observing business practices, learning interpersonal communication skills, and engaging with coworkers in conversation.

We also encourage our young adults to ask questions when appropriate, being mindful of others’ time. Having possible questions in mind should a time of conversation present itself, has proven extremely beneficial to our young adults. Asking questions and listening well are essential skills our teens need to acquire, and we can help them by role playing with possible questions and helping them process answers. The time and effort put forth could influence your high schooler’s career choice. We’ve witnessed this with our own young adults as well as with teens we know.

Inevitably, things won’t always go as planned, and mistakes will be made. These circumstances offer opportunities to develop communication skills and implement problem-solving strategies. They also build the ability to be flexible, spontaneous, and resilient. As hard times surface, we can walk alongside our teens and affirm their goodness, reminding them that leadership skills develop with practice.

Employment provides our high schoolers with excellent opportunities to build leadership skills. For some high schoolers these skills are learned while building knowledge of product lines and brands and communicating that knowledge to customers. For others, leadership and managerial qualities develop while acting as a shift manager overseeing a team of co-workers. No matter where your young adult is employed, consider the skills acquired, the career-or profession-related vocabulary gained, the decision making involved as part of the job, the conversations taking place between coworkers and employers, and the subject content being mastered through the opportunity. No doubt much more is being learned than you or your student imagined!

Entrepreneurial interests are another area where high schoolers gain important skills. Our daughter became a self-employed, small business owner in middle school and continued to build her business through the high school years. Her position required her to:

  • Register her business with the state
  • Build a website
  • Purchase supplies
  • Create and keep track of inventory
  • Email invoices
  • Open a checking account
  • Track sales
  • File quarterly sales taxes
  • Prepare profit and loss statements
  • Fill orders
  • Participate in craft venues

She earned money, but she also gained business and customer service skills. When it came time to prepare a transcript, I awarded her one credit in Business and Entrepreneurial Principles.

Volunteer experiences also afford opportunities to gain interpersonal skills and grow work ethic. This is a valuable addition to a college application. In fact, some schools value these hours so highly that they offer scholarships and service awards. Volunteer experiences matter to their personal growth as well as the lives of others.

Foster Leadership Qualities
Our son had an opportunity to be an assistant for a summer art camp. Each day on our ride home, he would tell me about the conversations he had with teachers and students. He commented on how teachers fostered curiosity with intentionally planned activities while implementing classroom management strategies. He noticed teachers engaging in meaningful conversation with children and observed the developmental stages of art.

As the summer ended, he was invited to serve on staff as the outside play assistant. This position allowed him to observe the stages of motor development as he watched children progress from running to galloping, from climbing stairs one foot at a time to alternating feet. He knelt down beside children who poured sand in funnels and floated boats in water tables. He was learning what I had studied in college in my early childhood courses.

His work at the preschool taught him about child development but also prepared him with life skills: time management, interpersonal communication skills, and workplace etiquette. Four years later, the knowledge he gained at the preschool laid a concrete foundation for his undergraduate studies.

Leadership skills can be learned through self-study or under the guidance of a mentor. All of our children gained vital skills by taking advantage of both. As they developed their skills and processed experiences, we were intentional about observing the goodness coming from their efforts. When we noticed growth in grit, growth mindset, and emotional intelligence, we affirmed what we saw so our teens could see the good in the hard or difficult.

“God is that good. He loves our children, knows how they are gifted, and longs for them to use the gifts He’s fashioned in them for the good of the kingdom.”
campground next to lake
Taking time to come alongside and process helped them see things differently or gain another perspective. Sometimes they would summarize the ebbs and flows of the day. Other times they shared their thoughts or asked questions about things that intrigued them. We tried to listen for their likes, dislikes, and concerns and tried to mirror back or clarify what was expressed. Our discussions helped unpack deeper life truths about the world, themselves, and other people and lead to some of their most valuable lessons as they moved into adulthood and future employment.
Accept Their Style of Leadership
Years of baseball games and babies mixed with two boys digging endless holes to China had taken a toll on our backyard landscaping. Weeds grew where grass once flourished. Shrubs begged for trimming. As Mike and I prayed about what to do and where to find time in our schedule, God answered.

One day our daughter, interested in all things health and nutrition, asked to plant a garden. To be honest, after having done this twice, I wasn’t really excited about having one gain. This was different: it was her idea (not mine), and she had a plan. The truth is, she really only needed me to offer support and take her to the nursery for seeds and plants. She had the project underway and under control.

About a week later, my brother was moving and offered his garden boxes. That same week, my dad invited her to join him to get a load of mushroom soil. Events continued to unfold. The more my daughter saw God answering her prayers, the more excited she got. She continued praying and orchestrating. She managed her time, planning around the growing seasons and weather. Eventually, there was harvest.

As you consider the leadership roles your high schooler exhibits or is invited into, remember his or her style may not be the same style you would prefer, utilize, or gravitate toward. You may be a quiet, behind-the-scenes leader while your learner is bold, courageous, and out front. You may prefer a coaching style while your young adult favors more of a servant leader. If you find you are unsure of what qualities characterize specific leadership types, lean in and learn alongside your high schooler. We’ve discovered these times build our minds, our skill sets, and our relationships.

Mike and I have worked with our graduates as well as others as we sit with them for annual evaluations. Many of these young adults develop not just academically, but also in their leadership abilities. Through this, we’ve come to understand we all have the same needs: to know our ideas and thoughts matter, to learn who we are and how we are gifted, and to understand how strengths contribute to our families, communities, and spheres of influence.

We are individuals with unique paths. In fact, each high schooler we’ve known has needed a different plan. Each endeavor needed different skill sets, and each graduate displayed leadership in different ways. Thankfully, there were no limits to the possibilities with which these young people could gain the skills they needed for where God called them. The same is true for your high schooler.


heryl Bastian has been married to Mike for thirty years and began homeschooling in 1993. A mother of eight children—preschool through adult—Cheryl knows the trials and triumphs of embracing each season of life and is passionate about equipping and inspiring parents who want to nurture a desire for life-long learning in their children.