A new study that aims to “plot a pathway from childhood experiences to adult leadership” which takes into account factors like the parental influence, motivational drive, intelligence, social skills and personality traits, has claimed to have identified the key characteristics of a child most likely to become a leader in adult life.
The research, which highlights behaviors like embracing novel experiences and supporting peers, may also help educators encourage leadership once they know what to look for and support, writes Laura Pappano at Harvard Education Letter.
The research was even able to identify characteristics in children as young as two years old.
As Allen Gottfried, director of the Fullerton Longitudinal Study, says – how a child initially responds to a novel situation involving new foods, people or situations is important.
“Some hold off, some withdraw, some engage,” he said.
Those who engage, “tend to become more extroverted, socially engaging and become everyday leaders.”
Researchers also found that the most demanding children are often the most likely to be leaders as adults. In their want to join or do activities contained the emergence of a quest to acquire new skills and knowledge, says Pappano.
“It also mattered that a child invested in and committed to the new activity if permitted to pursue it.”
The Harvard researchers also found parent involvement equaling important, noting that the same issues arise in the classroom as well as at home.
“It doesn’t mean you say yes to everything the kid wants,” said Gottfried.
But if a child “shows a genuine interest” in something, that support can be essential to fostering a key leadership quality—the drive to take on a challenge and pursue it until they find mastery or success, he says.
“That quality is very relevant because when you are a leader you have to delve into a world that is uncharted,” said Gottfried.
Revealingly, the data also found that stronger motivation trumped higher IQ in winning top roles in games.
“The motivationally gifted were significantly more likely to be the leaders,” said Gottfried.
Carol S. Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, doesn’t find the results of the study surprising.
The study offers a strong argument for schools “to do things fundamentally differently,” she said.
“We have fallen into a culture that tests and labels—and we need to be creating people who are visionaries, who are risk takers, who know how to adopt a challenge and pursue it over time.”
Tim Magner, executive director of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, believes that schools must become “intentional and purposeful” in creating opportunities for students in light of the study.
Students need time and experience connecting with real-world experiences, need to fail and pick themselves up, and to connect with passions they can pursue and master.
“What this study seems to be indicating is that there are what I would call ‘make or break skills’ that come on top of the three Rs,” he says.