Leadership development for a teenager


New Member
Hi all,
New member here. I am a father of a 13 year’s old 8th grader. My son started to think about possible military career. He also understands that getting a good education is a number one priority. With that said a military college can be a good option if that what he decides to do.
I know how hard it is to get in to USMA or VMI, however he is a very good student in a very competitive boys only catholic school. He is also a decent hockey player (not D-1 material though, so athletic scholarship in not on the horizon). He also does Rock Climbing and Junior Rifle team.
My biggest concern is his leadership ability. He is a quiet guy. My question is there anything we can do to develop his leadership abilities or it’s something the person is born with?
Thank you in advance for your time


5-Year Member
A lot of the best leaders are "quiet" types. Many lead by example as opposed to yelling the loudest.

  1. Here are some things that my own "quiet" son did in HS to develop as a leader: (He is now an Army 2LT)
  2. Became a volunteer tutor and helped teach math to younger children.
  3. He expressed interest to his varsity coach about leading his soccer team. by the following year he was appointed Captain.
  4. Volunteered at local organizations and helped organize projects.
  5. Set an example for others when doing group projects. This got him positive letters of recommendation when he applied for nominations.
  6. Got a PT job (move theater) and eventually volunteered to train other rookies. Again, this established leadership.


+1 to @AROTC-dad. Leadership is about strength of character, not volume of voice. The SAs — and the military — are full of quiet yet effective leaders.

The true measure of leadership, as relayed to us by people familiar with SA life and admissions, is this: Did you personally make a positive impact on an organization or the community, such that you left it a better place than when you arrived — ideally by rallying others to the cause? That’s the kind of leadership that translates well to officership.


My son is currently his NJROTC Battalion's Commander/Adjutant, Captain of the Varsity Color Guard, SeaPerch and CyberPatriot Teams and ranked first in PT. He is also a member of student leadership program, speaks to his fellow peers on the importance of voting, attended Boys State, lead's teen group at church and has attended West Points Summer Leadership Program and Naval Academy's summer seminar. Like AROTC dad above, I have a son who is considered "quiet" by his teachers, peers, friends, etc. But he carries himself well, is a good listener and has a lot of initiative. One thing that I've noticed and has been remarked upon by his instructors is that he is conscientious about others and demonstrates this in ways such as ensuring that on field meets, his cadets have all gotten their lunch first and then he will get his. On runs where he can easily finish first, he will double back to encourage those who are struggling to keep going. He does Spartan races with his fellow cadets outside of school and again, will make sure that the team crosses the finish line together. Leadership presents itself in many forms and often, it's not the obvious but what is subtle and more rare.


Have him check out Civil Air Patrol or Sea Cadets. My DD joined CAP outside our school district and has made numerous friends and gained leadership skills. The kids I have encountered are all so welcoming that I bet he would overcome some of his shyness there.


In general, colleges/SAs look for leadership in their applicants. I did alumni interviews for my college and I found that
Leadership can be President of a club or Captain of the Team or Section Leader in Band. But it can also be:

-Student involved in ethnic community center for years and then is asked to teach little kids
-Actual officer in a club
-Watched his little brother after school and encouraged parents to sign up brother for sports team and took him to practice
-Within a club, organized an activity for that club
-Led a community service activity
-Lead singer of a band - sings, chooses set list, organizes transportation for other members
-Summer Camp counselor
-Boy Scout Eagle Award/Girl Scout Gold Award
-EMT Cadet
-Boys State/Girls State
-Tutors others

So for right now I would have him look for projects he can lead. Is he in Boy Scouts? Belong to a House of Worship? Houses of Worship are the best because they are always looking for volunteers. We have teens leading our CROP Walk (https://www.crophungerwalk.org/) effort at our church as well as our Backpack Food program (http://www.shopforgoodness.com/) Even if you don't attend a house of worship you son could go to a Youth Group and participate.


It’s great that your son is already settling goals and seeking a path(s) to achieving them!
He will have time to develop himself and all of his accolades to become a highly competitive candidate if he works hard. I suggest reviewing the WP class profile and work towards having a similar profile at or above the averages listed. Academic, athletic, leadership. ACT, etc.. Regarding the activities/EC, be sure to he selects things he enjoys and will be engaged in, not just trying to check a box.
So beginning with academics, parents and son should meet with HS guidance counselor explaining his goals and discussing how he needs to reach them. This will include setting the most rigorous course load heavily based in STEM that he can take (successfully). I believe parents need to understand themselves what their child needs to do and accomplish to be a highly competitive SA candidate. Many HS GC may not know anything at all about an SA and will not be much help, thus an additional driving force by a parent who educates themselves ( example: think SAF) and child in the SA profile and admissions process may be helpful.
Athletics, continue playing hockey and become a team captain. EC, there was a list of many great options posted above. Student government is a good choice, but be an active leader. Take ACT sophomore year and continue studying and retaking to improve. These are just some basic examples of how a candidate could approach the start of HS.
So what can he do now for leadership?
Join Boy Scouts if he thinks he would like it. My DS joined at 13 or 14 yrs old , loved it, and earned Eagle Scout by his senior year. It’s a great program and the SA’s acknowledge it.
You’re fortunate to have a motivated son at an early age. Help channel his efforts ( don’t think helicopter parent, think mentoring!) so they may become the most effective for him and his goals. Even if he ultimately doesn’t receive an appointment, he will have many solid options available because of his efforts!
If he stays focused and does the work, he will be successful at whatever he ends up doing.


Our DS is applying now, and he is considered relatively quiet/stoic by his peers and teachers. He really started to gain more of a voice after competing in the American Legion Oratorical Contest. He was nervous, but public speaking really brought him out of his shell. He has since taken 2nd in the state in that contest and will compete again next year.
Have your son look into being a Boys State nominee his junior year.
And your local veteran's clubs may be a way for him to gain some community service. Ours are always happy to have youth volunteer at their events and our DS has been asked to be a public speaker representing local youth by several of these organizations.
It is really great that your DS is planning ahead. I second what @shock-n-awe said regarding sitting down with the guidance counselor. Our DS did that after 8th grade summer, she and he plotted out his whole high school schedule to make sure he had the courses he needed. He even did one over that summer to make room in his schedule for band and physics. She was a great ally in his life and still is.
Good luck to him, sounds like he is on the right path.


5-Year Member
The recurring theme here is about "quiet" leaders. I thought it would be relevant to point out that "quiet" does not mean "unassertive."

A quiet leader doesn't hesitate to step up and take charge or initiate change. That person just doesn't beat his chest about it, and or shout out "look what I did!"


I'm going to put in a stronger plug for Boy Scouts. At age 13 and in 8th grade, your son is still young enough to make Eagle and to also get really valuable leadership opportunities. A lot depends on the troop he joins - shop around and look for a troop where the Scoutmaster and adult leaders emphasize boy-led aspects and are strong adherents to the "patrol method". The quality of the Boy Scout experience is fundamentally dependent on the quality and training of the adult leaders. It has been my experience that troops with a lot of military families are often better run, more organized, and more focused on real advancement and leadership opportunities. But that is only a generality and my DS's troop had no military families at all and was exceedingly good as a leadership laboratory.

My DS is what I would call a "quiet leader" and his leadership style was learned primarily through Scouting. Becoming a good leader means, first and foremost, having many opportunities to observe different leadership styles in your peers and to be able to practice (and fail) at the nuts and bolts of leading. A good Scouting program provides this environment in spades.

There is also a program in Scouting called National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) that is based on a national program but run by individual Councils that is extremely good (but some Councils do it better than others). It is a one-week program designed to teach up and coming troop leaders (Boy Scouts and Venturers) how to lead effectively and it is organized and executed by senior youth leaders in the Council (with adult guidance). My DS was on staff for 5 years and ran his Council's program last year (finishing 4 days before I-Day at USNA). I highly recommend that all Scouts talk to their Scoutmaster or Venture Crew leader about participating (you have to be 13 and nominated by your leader). Staff for the following year are selected from the participant group, depending on their evaluation. The focus is on servant leadership and the skills and methods to lead. You get to "try on" different leadership styles and find what works for you and your personality. For my DS, this experience became fundamental to his personality as a young man.