12/10/2014 11:14 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

Leadership Role Models for Our Children

My son Luca's fifth grade class is studying "great world leaders" and those characteristics and traits that contribute to an effective leader. They discussed attributes like integrity, honesty, fortitude and diplomacy. One of their assignments was to choose a leader from any field, research and discover the leadership qualities in that individual, and then write about them.

His teachers asked parents to volunteer to participate in a schoolroom panel to discuss leadership values in various walks of life. I offered to share my experiences as chief of plastic surgery at two NYC hospitals for some 20 years. I am glad I did, because I learned a lot myself! Parents from various diverse occupations shared their views and philosophy regarding leadership roles in their line of work. A common thread among all participants was recognizing and learning from role models in their respective fields.

Discussion about role models by the children was most interesting. When asked who they thought to be good leadership role models, the replies included various pro sports personalities, movie stars, musical pop stars and TV personalities. That bothered me. While some of the names mentioned were excellent leaders to emulate (my Luca chose Derek Jeter), many others were chosen because of media exposure, both good and bad! Our society has become overly influenced by the media, creating an alluring aura around many personalities whose sole qualities include either strikingly good looks, outrageous antics, or highly-public sexual escapades (see Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus etc.). Adults respond to these people and fuel the fire. A recent photograph of Kim Kardashian's derrière created a Facebook frenzy across the country!

Our kids deserve better! Aside from obvious choices like political world leaders, philanthropists, business icons or religious leaders, why can't we teach our children to recognize, appreciate and emulate extraordinary individuals in our own community? Folks that don't necessarily have 2 million "followers" on Twitter or whose exposed body parts don't appear on the front page of tabloids more often than our president! Take a closer look around your own environment. Can you find a better leader to learn from than your child's very own school teacher, who patiently and diligently molds and nourishes your child's brain? How about your local fire or police chief, who protects your family every day? I believe their leadership qualities fit the bill. Ask your retired neighbor who happened to serve in our armed forces during a war or conflict to demonstrate leadership qualities to our youngsters. A common quality of a special leader is modesty, so you may have to be persistent, but I believe that we have an abundance of people around us who possess enormous leadership skills. These are the individuals who we should seek out and plead to share their leadership skills with our kids, and maybe our adults also!

"Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another." -- John C. Maxwell