Monday, November 20th, 2017

Traits of Kids Younger Than Five That Say, “Leader”

Leadership can be developed but it’s much easier to refine what is already there. I would love to do or read research on the early childhood traits of outstanding leaders. I have five grandchildren and have seen their uniqueness and different preferences from birh. There are two natural leaders and three extraordinarily talented, but not leaders, in the pack. Both showing leadership are girls.

What do see in the natural leaders?

They want to lead. My granddaughter, now nine years old, was always in the front of a group of 12 adults. We all laugh how on a family walk on the beach in the Winter (we are that kind of family) she managed to stay in front of the crowd and to ride herd if needed to corral people into some kind of togetherness. Kind of like a Sheep Dog. I bet many a CEO feels like one.  At three years old she would run ahead on chubby legs and stride out in the front. She did have to run to keep that place and she did. And we did not ‘let’ her do it. (We are that kind of family) She had to earn it. It was hard work for her and sometimes ended in tears when it was too hard to maintain and she was being overtaken. Sound familiar to any of you CEO’s out there?

—Both granddaughter could see further than their own little noses and anticipate what was coming. “If we have a treat now, then how can we have one before bed?” “How can we play a game tomorrow if we are going on the plane? Next Summer we need to have a bigger table because we will have two new cousins. (Hadn’t crossed my mind at all)

—Both are confident that they are competent even if they aren’t quite competent yet. They trust they will learn what’s needed. “I can do it. Let me do it. I know how to do this” are all frequently heard statements. ” I know how to do zippers, cut asparagus, lock the door, finish the puzzle, work the microwave, set the table.” No help wanted.

—Both are determined and diligent to the point of stubborn, They do not only think they are competent and surprisingly often, are, they stick with learning until they are competent. Frankly as a G’ma it tries my patience to wait and wait and wait for a three year old to button an old-fashioned button when I’m urging velcro, but know that this is how mastery occurs and I bow to it every time in wonder. Where does this urge come from.

—Both know when to ask for  help as a matter of fact, no embarrassment or shame. It doesn’t seem to fit with the drive for mastery but it does. Mastery stays with learning rather than with a punitive stick to it attitude no matter what.  And so they stop or ask for help. One uses the phrase, I’m not ready to dive in water, to watch scarey parts of movies, to use the big potty, to sleep without a light. No internal push and big resistance to external push. The other says, “I need more practice to sleep alone, I need help to put on tights, I’ll learn to do it a little later.”

Both know how to negotiate to get what they want AND to have the other person get what they want. Win, win. How about we both watch Frozen together? How about you go to sleep and I’ll play with Legos in bed? How about we (not I)  have two bites of chicken and ten bites of ice cream?  How about you (little sister) play with my favorite doll and I have time alone with G’ma? How about we all eat Halloween candy at the same time?  How about I get to eat on the floor like a cat from a plate and you get to eat at the table? Huh? I do often get bamboozled.

These two early leaders are surpisingly good a problem solving and come up with creative solutions. One is afraid of spiders. (Leaders are people) There was a spider on the ceiling of the bedroom. I swiped at it with a towel and missed. I tossed a shoe too. My granddaughter litted her forefinger and said, “Wait here.” She was gone for awhile and came back with a feather duster with an handle that expanded. I do not dust with any feather duster. How it got into a random toy basket, I don’t know. She knocked the spider down herself. What to do with all her books? Store them in the dollhouse she never uses. How to blow out a candle and be safe? Us a funnel that is normally used for pouring coffee to garafe.

These young leaders want to dominate but want everyone to be happy as well. There is a strong sense of fairness for the group. And some strong manipulation skill (in a good sense) of how to manage competing desires. We’ll play inside now and outside later. You love you play with the big blocks. You are so lucky. I’ll just play with the dolls. Let’s play my way first and you can play your way longer later.

Both future women leaders are curious and ask new level questions. I wish I’d written them all down.  “What do the trees do when there is no wind?  What makes us walk?  Is everybody in the world thinking at the same time?  What’s the end?  I’ll take care you you G’ma when you are a baby.  When my heart is small it means I am sad. When I am made my heart and brain get so big they explode. Why are brains slimy?  Who is in charge of the grown-up? What is electricity?”

—The girls can set an attractive vision for the future with enthusiasm and relish. “Next Summer let’s build a tent on the beach and just walk out of it into the ocean. We can build the tent out of sticks and seaweed. We can’t make a fire so we’ll go to the cookie jar and buy cookies to eat. But we’ll brush our teeth in the ocean. At night we’ll turn on a billion flashlight so we won’t be scared. Our bathing suits will turn into pajamas when we press a button. And the rocks will turn into soft comfy pillows. Mommy and daddy can watch us with cameras or be on the top of the hill.” I forget the exact words but this is the vision for the coming summer.

Who knows how these traits will be modified? I know they were not taught. I know that these traits don’t always work in a toddler peer group. I know that strong talent that leans in one direction early can be a burden. I know that some kids have a better understanding of what is needed than some present leaders.  I know that all talent is needed and every kind needs to be supported during the first five years of life. I know that I would like to live long enought to see what emerges for all five of my  grandchildren. My family role is not that much different from my professional role–nuture and support the gifts that people bring into the world.








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