Kids With This Characteristic Are More Likely to Become Future Leaders

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Private elementary school students using digital tablet technology in class
By Shana Lebowitz

The idea that you could talk to a bunch of cootie-fearing, nose-picking 10-year-olds and determine which one will someday become a high-powered business exec might seem ridiculous.

But a new study suggests it's possible. According to researchers at Stirling University in the UK and University College Dublin, high cognitive ability in children strongly predicts leadership potential in adulthood.

The researchers looked at two sets of data collected from nearly 17,000 people over several decades. At age 10 or 11, participants took cognitive tests that measured their verbal skills, reasoning, and general cognitive abilities. Throughout their 30s and 40s, they were also asked questions about their leadership activity at work, such as whether they supervised any employees and, if so, how many.Results from the first data set showed that nearly four in 10 people who'd scored high on the cognitive tests went on to become leaders, compared to a quarter of those who'd scored low.

Similarly, results from the second data set showed that people who'd demonstrated high cognitive ability as kids were nearly twice as likely to take on leadership positions as those who'd demonstrated low cognitive ability.

The researchers say that kids who exhibit high cognitive ability are likely skilled in two key areas: reasoning and problem solving. Those abilities are important for supervising and managing people.

One way to explain the link between cognitive ability and leadership is that people who scored high on the tests as kids were more likely to earn advanced degrees, which helped them land jobs and promotions later on.

Yet educational attainment couldn't account for most of the relationship between cognitive ability and leadership potential.

Of course, this research shouldn't dissuade parents and teachers from cultivating leadership skills in children who don't score high on tests of cognitive ability. In fact, scientists say that you can boost your cognitive ability by challenging yourself and trying to think creatively.

That means kids who aren't scoring high on these tests can develop the skills they're missing and boost their chances of assuming leadership roles when they grow up.
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