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Developing Leadership Potential

— Duke University Talent Identification Program
Updated on Jan 2, 2009

What are the early signs of leadership potential?

While children are not born leaders, as an early theory of leadership suggested, parents can see early signs of leadership potential in their child. Research indicates that the concepts and skills of leadership can be learned. A child shows leadership potential when he or she:

  • Assumes responsibility
  • Is independent in thought and action
  • Likes to be in charge of other children and activities
  • Gets along with a wide variety of people
  • Is goal oriented
  • Can sequence tasks and plan activities to complete a goal
  • Has good communication skills
  • Is sensitive to the concerns and needs of others
  • Shows ability to make decisions
  • Has the skills of self-sufficiency
  • Can effect positive and productive change

How can you help your child develop and enhance his or her leadership abilities?

  • Give your child age-appropriate responsibilities around the home and gradually increase them in number and complexity as the child gets older.
  • Provide situations in which your child interacts with persons of all ages and interests.
  • Read to your child about leaders and discuss their characteristics.
  • Assist your child in determining the appropriate sequencing of tasks to complete projects. Encourage them to estimate completion times and use a calendar to record progress.
  • Discuss and compare the ideas and actions of community, state, national, and international leaders.
  • Have your child keep a scrapbook or make a collage of great leaders.
  • Encourage your child to participate in leadership activities in the school or community for which he or she has an interest.
  • Assist your child in developing the writing skills necessary for leadership (letters, speeches, agendas, commentaries).
  • Assist your child in developing the speaking skills necessary for leadership (group discussion, debate, speeches).
  • Set an example by participating in a variety of organizations and events.
  • Talk with your child about leaders from all areas of human endeavor. Emphasize that leaders can be found among all age and ethnic groups and from both genders. 

How do I get information about opportunities for training in leadership?

Contact your principal, guidance counselor, and/or superintendent. Check with your Mayor's office. Contact the Department of Education in your state or surrounding states. Contact your state association for the gifted. Look into courses offered by universities and research centers.

Additional Resources

Books/Materials 

Karnes, F. A. & Bean, S. M. (1993). Girls and Young Women Leading the Way. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Karnes, F. A. & Bean, S. M. (1995). Leadership for Students: A Practical Guide. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Karnes, F. A. & Chauvin, J. C. (2000). Leadership Skills Inventory. Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press.

Karnes, F. A. & Chauvin, J. C. (2000). The Leadership Development Program. Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press.

Web Sites

Congressional Youth Leadership Council 
National Youth Leadership Council 
Global Youth Action Network 
Student Leader magazine

Journal Articles

Karnes, F. A. & Bean, S. M. (September, 1997)." Leading the way to leadership." Parenting for High Potential, 8-9, 20.

Karnes, F. A. & Stephens, K. R. (1999). "Planning for the future: Leadership education in the schools." Educational Horizons, 77 (2), 89-94.

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