Leaders of the future 'apparent at age of five'

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The Independent Online

Future prime ministers and captains of industry can be spotted among children as young as five, a study shows.

Future prime ministers and captains of industry can be spotted among children as young as five, a study shows.

Teachers believe leadership qualities are revealed by the way children relate to each other even among the paints and the playdough. And onein five teachers thinks leadership should be fostered from the age of three.

The study of teachers' attitudes to leadership was conducted by the Institute of Leadership, a non-profit-making independent organisation.

Most teachers want children to start learning how to be leaders while they are at primary school. More than a third think five is the right age and 20 per cent want to start at three. They say infants with leadership potential stand out because they:

Can express their opinions;

Are good organisers;

Listen to others;

Are confident;

Take responsibility;

Stand out and can act independently.

They also help others take a lead in group activities and have other children look up to them.

Observing the behaviour of pupils with their peers was mentioned by most of the teachers as the way they identify leadership potential.

"Surprisingly," says the report, "qualities such as being honest, innovative, intelligent, creative and enjoying helping others were rarely selected."

The report on the study of around 100 teachers argues that the findings about how teachers pick out leaders are worrying because they are more likely to select confident children who express themselves. This may mean shy children never have a chance to develop leadership qualities.

But the institute firmly believes leaders are made as well as born. "Lack of confidence is the highest reason and being shy is the fourth highest for not selecting a pupil as a leader. This has serious implications for these children. They are always likely to remain at the back and never grow in confidence."

The report suggests that if lack of confidence and shyness affect leadership qualities, there may be a need to focus attention on even younger children. Teachers might try to support parents in fostering babies' self-esteem because the first two years of life are so important in a child's social and personal development.

Teachers say the demands of the national curriculum place constraints on the amount of time they can spend on promoting leadership skills.

The report concludes: "Developing leadership in young people has huge implications for society. What isvital is to change the perception of leadership as something mystical for the few and realise that everyone has some leadership potential."