Developing Leadership in Gifted Youth
ERIC Identifier: ED321490
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Karnes, Frances A. - Bean, Suzanne M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
All cultures need role models and leaders. Most of us agree that professions such as
medicine, technology, education, business and industry, politics, and the arts need
people who can use intelligence, creativity, and critical judgment. The role of parents
and educators is critical in assisting with the development of leadership attitudes and
skills in gifted youth.
Leadership has been designated a talent area in federal and state definitions of gifted
students who require differentiated programs, yet it remains the least discussed of the
curricular areas for these students in the literature, and it is not well defined.
CHARACTERISTICS OF LEADERSHIP IN GIFTED YOUTH
Few gifted programs identify students with high leadership potential or incorporate
leadership education into their curricula. However, many characteristics of gifted youth
enable them to profit from leadership development. Those characteristics include the
PARENTS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEADERSHIP
- The desire to be challenged.
- The ability to solve problems creatively.
- The ability to reason critically.
- The ability to see new relationships.
- Facility of verbal expression.
- Flexibility in thought and action.
- The ability to tolerate ambiguity.
- The ability to motivate others.
Preparing young people for leadership responsibility begins in the home with an
enriched environment that offers opportunities for children to acquire broad interests,
self-esteem, and the insights and skills that characterize leaders. Parents can provide
their children with support and encouragement as they participate in a wide variety of
home and community activities. Parents should encourage their children to be involved
in the selection, planning, execution, and evaluation of family activities ranging from a
day at the zoo to a vacation overseas. Youngsters should also be encouraged to plan,
initiate, and complete a variety of self-evaluated individual projects, but these skills are
not learned automatically. They must be patiently taught and modeled by parents in the
Discussion and debate about current events and other topics foster independent
thinking and nurture leadership potential. Parents who listen openly and thoughtfully
without expecting children to embrace their social, political, and economic views are
demonstrating leadership characteristics. Mutual respect, objectivity, empathy, and
understanding are highly valued by gifted young people, particularly those who need a
safe place to test their ideas.
Opportunities for decision making at an early age will help to foster the critical reasoning
skills necessary to be an effective leader. Inappropriate decisions by children and youth,
although difficult for parents to accept, may enhance future decision-making skills when
INFUSING LEADERSHIP CONCEPTS AND SKILLS INTO THE CURRICULUM
Major emphasis should be placed on leadership development in all academic areas,
including the fine and performing arts. Thematic curriculum units and reading lists
should include biographies and autobiographies of outstanding leaders. Students
should be encouraged to analyze and evaluate the motivation, contributions, and
influences of each leader and assess the leadership styles employed. Major events and
family and other influences important in the life of each leader should be emphasized.
OTHER SCHOOL OPTIONS FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and social sciences provide
unique opportunities for projects in which initiating, planning, critical thinking, creative
problem solving, and decision making can be developed. They are rich with
opportunities to learn about leaders who have influenced such areas as government
and politics, science and technology, humanities and the arts, business and industry,
philosophy and religion, and health science and medicine. Students can learn how their
interests, passions, and abilities can develop into careers. They can compare the
contributions of others with their own value systems. For example, many leaders have
been concerned about poverty and the human condition.
Language arts, speech, English, and other courses that emphasize oral
and written communication provide opportunities for potential leaders to learn how to
present ideas clearly and persuasively. Preparing and presenting speeches, listening to
and critiquing presentations, writing news reports and editorials for school and other
local publications, preparing for and engaging in debates, leading conference and
discussion sessions, and participating in school and other election campaigns are only a
few of the many options available. Group activities provide opportunities for young
people to learn how to help others feel important and valued, accept their contributions,
keep discussions relevant, and occasionally follow rather than lead.
Students can learn leadership skills and gain inspiration from talented people of
the past and present who have enriched all of us through their contributions in the fine
and performing arts. Their creative works, the trends they initiated, and the enduring
results of their efforts are worthy of study, as are their lives and the circumstances
under which their work came to fruition.
Several strategies strengthen and broaden educational experiences for gifted youth.
Instructional units on leadership development should be provided at each grade level in
a resource room or pullout administrative arrangement. Some secondary schools offer
structured credit courses on leadership. Having students prepare and periodically
update personal plans for leadership development, including provisions for obtaining the
experiences set forth in their plans, is another promising activity. The value of this
experience is enhanced when students share individual plans in group sessions, brief
the group on their purpose, revise plans if the critique brings forth acceptable
suggestions, report to peers on progress made after following the plans for a period of
time, and evaluate the plans using self-designed criteria.
Mentorships and internship programs provide opportunities for youth to work with adult
community leaders who are willing to help identify, develop, and nurture future leaders.
LEADERSHIP THROUGH EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Since leadership is learned over time through involvement with others, extracurricular
activities provide fertile ground for nurturing future leaders. Group participation offers
unique opportunities for young people to belong, support others, and learn a variety of
leadership styles. Students learn how to encourage others, create group spirit, and
resolve conflict. They begin to understand diverse attitudes, skills, and talents and how
to interact effectively with a diversity of people while working toward a common goal.
Leadership in extracurricular activities has been found to be more highly correlated with
adult leadership than with academic achievement. A 10-year study conducted with 515
high school student leaders revealed that almost two-thirds of them participated in
out-of-school organizations and athletics and more than half participated in fine arts
Although there are many organized extracurricular activities for youth, those who want
to develop their leadership potential can do so through less formal methods. Individuals
or groups can plan special projects or a leadership plan by setting goals, objectives, and
timelines toward a mission of improving some area of the school or community. Skills
such as seeking all available information, defining a group task, and devising a
workable plan may be developed through any community project. No matter how small
or large the goal, the process involved in devising and implementing the plan develops
Leadership is much more than being elected or appointed to a position, and it is
acquired most effectively through practice. Educators, parents, and other concerned
adults who are interested in the development of leadership in gifted youth can make a
difference in the lives of these students by providing them with opportunities to realize
their leadership potential
Prepared by Frances A. Karnes, Professor, Department of Special Education, and
Director, The Center for Gifted Studies, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg,
and Suzanne M. Bean, Assistant Professor, Mississippi University for Women,
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.
This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education,
Office of Educational Research and Improvement, under contract no. RI88062007. The
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of
OERI or the Department of Education.
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