They’ve Got What It Takes

How do you groom a girl or boy to be a leader? DR RICHARD C.WOOLFSON says to ignore gender differences and do this instead.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

How do you groom a girl or boy to be a leader? DR RICHARD C.WOOLFSON says to ignore gender differences and do this instead.

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A number of psychological studies have identified potential gender differences in leadership styles, and these differences may be seen during childhood as well.

Research findings suggest that female leaders tend to be “transformational” – they tend to relate well to everyone in the team, to encourage everyone to achieve their full potential, to have very effective communication skills, and to act as inspirational role models.

In contrast, male leaders tend to be “transactional” – they tend to be concerned with goals rather than people, to be very dominant, to be remote from members of the team, and to focus on mistakes that are made.

As you would expect, there is huge debate about which style of leadership is more effective. Some people prefer to work with a transformational leader, while others prefer the working environment created by a transactional leader.

The best approach to encourage your child to develop leadership qualities, however, is to ignore potential gender differences.

At this young age, it doesn’t really matter that your four-year-old is a girl or a boy when it comes to leadership – what matters is his or her interpersonal skills. Instead, focus on ways to encourage your little one as a unique individual to become a good leader. These are some traits to foster:

Effective communication skills are a key quality of good leaders. Develop your child’s ability to express her feelings in a way that others understand.

Her peers won’t be willing to cooperate with her unless they understand her – they won’t work with her if she sulks silently in a corner when she can’t get her own way.

Listening skills Good leaders have good listening skills. Encourage her to look at her pals when they talk to her, to make eye contact with them, to respond when they speak to her, and to use body language to demonstrate that she is listening (for instance, by nodding her head to show that she is in agreement with what they say).

Respect for others Although there are some leaders who are not committed to teamwork, it is generally accepted that part of leadership involves working in a team.

That means respecting the contribution that others make, making an individual contribution that helps the team goal, and utilising the skills of the other team members in a positive way.

Persistence Nurture your four-year-old’s leadership ability by persuading her to persist, even when the task seems to be beyond her capabilities.

Someone who gives up easily will rarely inspire others to follow her, whereas one who shows determination in the face of a difficult challenge acts as a good role model for her friends.

Independent thought It’s very hard to resist peer pressure, and that is why most children are heavily influenced by their friends.

Independent thought, however, is a leadership quality. It’s that ability to know what the majority want to do, and yet still be independently minded enough to go in a direction that pushes against the crowd, if necessary.

Encouragement As well as setting a good example, a child with leadership qualities is able to encourage others in her team to give 100-per-cent effort, and more.

The children’s desire to please the leader is so strong that they try harder with her encouragement than they would do if they were working alone to complete the job.

Resourcefulness Leaders tend to be skilful at finding solutions to problems that others seem to find insurmountable. It’s about having the creative ability to think outside the box, to see possibilities when others see only obstacles.

Teach your preschooler to look at challenges in many different ways, and to be prepared to test out different answers.

"Good leaders have good listening skills. Encourage your child to make eye contact with her pals and to use body language to demonstrate that she is listening."