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Publication Date : 28-02-2013
KidLead starts early in turning children into effective and ethical leaders
When Bangkokians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new governor, the candidates' leadership skills and probably their ethics or lack thereof will play a role in how they cast their votes.
Nothing unusual in that but according to leadership development expert, Dr Alan E Nelson, there's better news on the way, as Thais will one day be choosing between some truly great and honest leaders. We just have to wait for them to grow up.
Nelson, the founder of KidLead Inc and LeadYoung Training System, was recently in Thailand to facilitate the workshop "Born 2 Lead?" and "Growing Great Leaders" at Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital. Working with KidLead's local partner APM Group, he says young leaders can be identified as early as age two and that leadership skills can be taught from the moment kids start to socialise.
"For more than 20 years, I conducted leadership training for adults because that is where the literature, the research, the degree, and the industry is and, most importantly, the money. For whatever reason, we think leadership is what adults do. However, I just don't see the results.
"We see it all the time - in Thailand, America, Dubai, Europe … everywhere. Every week, we hear about scandals involving leaders in the corporate, political and religious world. The problem is a lack of ethics and when a leader fails ethically, a lot of people suffer and corporations goes bankrupt.
"Teaching ethics courses to MBA students is a waste of time because they are pretty much already set. You can talk about ethics in lectures but you are not going to change them in their hearts or characters. "
So, Nelson continues, it's logical to train the children who are going to be social influencers and help them to be effective and ethical. "The long term goal is to give these young leaders 10 to 20 years experience before they would normally start getting formal leadership development. In the typical executive training programme I teach at the Naval Postgraduate School, my students are sharp but their characters pretty much determine how they are going to behave. If these children aged nine and 10 are given 20 years head start, think of how great they can become," says Nelson.
Nelson pioneered young leadership development seven years ago, focusing his initial studies on the pre-teen group, aged from 10 to 13. His more recent research has covered younger children from age two.
Like acquiring any other skill, the best way to develop leadership is to practise leading others. KidLead offers the learning-by-doing leadership development curriculum for leaders when it matters most: when they are young. While adult leaders are resistant to change, adolescents between the ages of 10 and 13 experience a unique developmental window when their values, personality, and emotional intelligence are developing at their fastest. The curriculum entitled "The Sweet 16" comprises the 16 competencies and characteristics of a great leader in the 21st century. Each session focuses on developing a specific competency or characteristic of effective and ethical leadership. The curriculum is divided into four modules and covers values, attitudes, relationship building and decision-making.
"The programmes are all active learning based, because that because that's the way we all learn and because before 13, kids are not abstract thinkers. You have to give the concrete thinkers' experience. So that is the strategy, the vision, and the means to lead. You can't talk about it. You have to do it," Nelson stresses.
For new generation leaders, "leadership" is redefined as the process of helping people to accomplish together what they could not as individuals. Leaders are those who get leadership going ethically.
"Certainly, we want everyone to be a good citizen, whether leader or follower. We realise that the younger you go, the more you have to rely on interpersonal intelligence. We may all have good interpersonal skills but that doesn't mean we can be a leader. A leader has that ability to get a group of people to buy into an idea and get people to work together," he says.
"Get two or three preschoolers together and after just a few minutes of activities, you can see leadership behaviour. We have learned to observe and develop them through activities. At the younger ages, it's playtime activities. For older kids, it's an activity that can take place in a room with children taking turns to be a leader. Once they are a team leader, they will have to get four or five of their peers to do micromotor or cognitive skills in a set time and then they get feedback.
The coaching is the real time coaching. We train trainers and teachers to ask them strategic questions that cause them to think like leaders instead of telling them what to do."
Dr Punnada Sulaiman, a specialist in paediatric psychiatry at Samitivej Hospital, agrees that children can be trained as leaders but emphasises the importance of conscious parenting. "Parents and educators have to be positive models, consistent, and in clear agreement on how to raise a child," she says. "Child development changes according to different ages but open-ended questions are always good for toddlers. Adult should give them a chance to express their thoughts and by listening, help them understand themselves and their feelings while offering questions that guide them to critical thinking as well as decision-making and problem-solving skills. There is no need to set a goal to be a leader in every situation. Teaching them to lead their own lives with confidence is the most important."
Nelson too would like to see more adult involvement. "I don't worry about children. I worry about adults who don't get the importance of child development," he says. "My concern is how we can get enough people, teachers, and trainers to understand this is the great social solution. I'm interested in leadership but I realise that the best approach to develop leaders is while they are still kids.
"Children need to learn self-discipline too, as it helps them understand that choices come with consequences. It takes more work initially but it's effective. When you are older, you have to realise that achieving power doesn't mean you can do whatever you want to do. Power always tempts us to please ourselves. Leaders who lack self-discipline are dangerous."
And while self-discipline may not be lacking in our gubernatorial candidates, there have certainly been examples in Thai politics. A thought to take to the ballot box, perhaps.
The Thai edition of the KidLead book is available at bookstores. "Back in the Nest", an English language leadership story about teamwork for kids aged two to five years, is available from overseas online retailers.