Leadership begins at school

Apr 25 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Whether you agree with legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi that leaders aren't born but made through hard work – and for many the jury remains out – what's increasingly clear is that it is at school that most leaders get their the first taste of leadership.

Back in 2005 a study by consultancy DDI found that nine out of 10 chief executives and board-level directors had held at least two roles such as head boy or girl, prefect or sports captain.

Now, in a similar poll of 500 British business owners and managers, the Institute of Leadership and Management has concluded that many future leaders were either marked out or marked themselves out from an early age.

More than four out of 10 were school prefects, a fifth captaining a school sports team and nine per cent reaching the heights of head boy or girl

The sports field in particular proved a valuable learning ground for today's leaders with nearly seven out of 10 competing as part of a school team.

Extra-curricular activities also played a key role in the development of future leaders.

A third of male leaders were once members of the Scouts while 42 per cent of their female counterparts were Girl Guides.

And a total of 16 per cent were once members of the school choir, while one in ten played in the school orchestra.

Kim Parish, chief executive of ILM, said: "This study shows that many young people learn about leadership at a very early age.

"Activities often seen as childhood hobbies – such as being a member of the Scouts or Guides or playing on a school team – actually furnish young people with skills such as team ethos, ambition, goal setting and many of the other qualities that we associate with good leadership."

Nearly a third of business leaders felt holding a position of responsibility at school was the most important indicator of a good future leader – and by implication therefore something to sell hard on a resume or CV.

And despite the social bias towards higher education, today's business leaders were clear in the belief that academic qualifications are not a prerequisite for success.

A third said academic performance at school was the most overrated indicator of a good leader.

In fact, a significant proportion felt they owed their current role to experiences outside the classroom, as 12 per cent left school under the age of 16 and seven per cent had no qualifications at all when they left full-time education.

"This study shows that successful leaders draw on expertise and experience from all areas of their lives – from the exam hall to the cricket pitch. The leadership lessons learned in childhood can help sow the first seeds of leadership ambition," added Parish.