I saw it when she was all of six years old. Mari had this electric little yellow Corvette, and she’d wheel it up and down the driveway, whipping it around rocks and dipping between the trees and pumping up the volume on the little radio station she had tuned on Radio Disney. At some point, the girl convinced herself she could drive. Like, a real car. In fact, by the time she was 10 and a bit more froggy, she would often raise her hand and offer to take the wheel when I’d proclaim how tired I was.

Let’s just say my Mari was always a confident girl. She was good at a lot of things—writing, soccer, art, playing the trumpet, cooking, getting A’s in school. All of it. I say that not because she’s my baby, but because it’s true.

But she was never one to speak up—not like her attitudinal, straight-talk-no-chaser, take charge mother. Mari would play the rear—sit back and get a lay of the land and quietly do her due diligence and, finally, speak when she felt like speaking. It used to drive me nuts. I wanted her to lead like we expect leaders to lead—like a bulldozer that digs up the answers and knocks down what it needs to in order to get the job done.

It’s this that I was thinking about recently after sitting in on a Responsibility.org summit talk by retired American soccer midfielder Julie Foundy, a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist. In her talk about leadership, she said something that really resonated with me: there is no one way to be a leader. We tend to think of leaders, she said, as men, appointed by a group, situated on top of the proverbial horse, charging through problems and meting out orders like dictators, leaving little room for collaboration or dissent. But there are so many different ways to lead, she said—styles that she witnessed while she played on the Women’s World Cup team. For instance, she said, soccer star Mia Hamm was a quiet leader with a “very personal and cerebral” way of rallying the troops, while some were more collaborative and others, still, were take charge. That mix of different leadership styles helped the team achieve its goals. “Leadership,” then, “is personal, not positional,” Foundy concluded.

It was such a profound way of considering what, exactly, is effective leadership. It doesn’t have to be in-your-face; it can most certainly be quiet, yet strong, laid back but insistent. That’s worked for my Mari, who manages to lead not by sitting high up on a horse and charging through the problem, but quietly, thoughtfully convincing her peers to consider what could be the best solutions for the problems at hand.

And isn’t this what I want as a mom from my baby—for her to be an effective leader rather than simply a bulldozer?

For sure, allowing your child to lead in her own way puts her in prime position to make sound decisions that make sense for all involved—especially when being responsible can keep her safe, out of trouble and in the right mind to make good decisions. In that regard, I’m grateful for Mari’s unique leadership skills, which not only have kept her on the good and reasonable side of sticky social situations, but also kept her friends reasonably safe while swirling in her orbit.

In honor of Alcohol Responsibility Month, I’m encouraging each of us moms to #talkearly by teaching our children that leadership is not positional, but personal—that it’s not just about being confident or naturally big, but making good, sound, reasonable decisions in a way that is comfortable, thoughtful, and true to themselves. Need some help with that talk? Visit the Responsibility.org site for conversation starters and resources to help you bring out the natural leadership skills in your kid. It’s so worth it.

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I’m a proud #TalkEarly blogging ambassador and I’ve been compensated for this post, but trust and believe, these opinions are my own. You know I’d have it no other way.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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