The Impact of Early Leadership Development on Children & Teenagers

Leadership Development

Leadership: it’s often treated as this almost mythical characteristic that some people just have. But the truth is that leadership is not a personality trait, says researcher Katherine T. Whitnah. “Leadership is regarded in many cases as a complex, multicomponent advanced competency rather than a fixed personality trait,” write researchers Despoina Karagianni and Anthony Jude Montgomery. “Within this definition leadership is regarded as a dynamic procedure, which can be developed by means of appropriate interventions.” In fact, the development of leadership skills is an important part of childhood development. According to psychologists Susan Murphy and Stefanie Johnson, leadership tasks and skills can be developed as early as 2 years of age.

“Leaders are likely to have had developmental experiences well before reaching mid-management and these early development experiences are important for adulthood,” write Murphy and Johnson. “In addition to the direct benefit of leader experience on these outcomes, we argue that early experiences create the foundation for future leadership development to build on.”

Leadership Development in Children, Teenagers, and Young Adults

You CAN Teach a Young Dog New Tricks

“It is possible that development occurs more readily in childhood and adolescence than in adulthood because one’s behavior, personality, and skills are more malleable at a young age than in adulthood,” write Murphy and Johnson. It basically comes down to the old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Young people, meanwhile, are much more open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

“Indeed, researchers have argued for the likelihood that some skills may be more important to develop early on,” write Murphy and Johnson.

Early Development Factors

“It is useful to examine leadership during childhood and adolescence as what occurs during the developmental years can have an impact on the leadership behaviours exhibited later in the workplace as an adult,” write Karagianni and Montgomery.

In their research, Murphy and Johnson explore several early development factors that play a role in the leadership development of young people – children and teenagers. These include:

  • Genetics: “Studies using databases of identical twins reared apart, identical twins reared together, and fraternal twins have shown that there is a component of leadership that appears to be traceable to genetic factors,” write Murphy and Johnson. “These are all influences that are largely outside of the control of the individual, but set the stage for future leader development.”
  • Temperament: “Temperament is thought to be both a function of genetic hardwiring and prenatal factors,” write Murphy and Johnson. “It is easy to see how these temperament dimensions provide a stable developmental trajectory for other factors of personality that would influence leadership effectiveness.”
  • Family: “Birth order, family size, and parental attention have been implicated as predictors of leadership,” write Murphy and Johnson.
  • Sports: “Many of the lessons necessary for effective leadership are learned from organized sports,” write Murphy and Johnson. “Although parents likely influence the extent to which children are allowed to enter sports and the types of sports that they play, the experiences that one has in athletics can affect one’s development into a leader.”
  • Education:

Leader, Rinse, Repeat: Practice Makes Perfect Leaders

“One’s development to eventually become a leader is a self-reinforcing process,” write Murphy and Johnson. “For example, as one gains greater leadership efficacy, or confidence in one’s ability to lead a group, that individual is more likely to engage in leadership experiences, which will serve to increase the individual’s leadership efficacy.” In this instance, what we are referring to is experiential learning. As American psychologist, philosopher, and educational reformer John Dewey once famously said, “there is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education.” Basically, people learn by doing. So, the more a person takes on leadership roles at a young age, the more they will grow as a leader through the years. And this early leadership development can lead to very tangible results later in life.

“Adolescent leaders are more likely to take up managerial positions as adults, and leadership skills developed early on can have a positive impact on future wages,” write Karagianni and Montgomery.

Developing Leadership Skills with Terrapin Adventures

Conveniently located in Howard County, Maryland, between Baltimore and Washington DC, Terrapin Adventures places participants in leadership roles as groups work to solve problems.  Thrust into a leadership role, people often surprise their boss with previously unknown attributes that engage and organize their team into functioning units.  We use the opportunity to discuss different styles of leadership  as the group goes from Forming to Storming and Norming phases of group development.


Through carefully designed uplifting activities, bridges to communication are built, cooperation is improved, and creative problem solving is unleashed. Participants will be encouraged to bend boundaries and extend comfort zones to expand their potential.

Plan Your Team Building Experience

Our facility is like no other in Maryland and we can go off-campus as needed with our portable equipment and creativity. Our team leaders have many years of experience working with school age groups.

Your program will be personalized to your groups needs.

If you have any questions, please call Terrapin Adventure at 301.725.1313, or email us at to learn more.

Works Cited

  1. Montgomery, Anthony, and Despoina Karagianni. “Developing leadership skills among adolescents and young adults: a review of leadership programmes.” Taylor & Francis, Accessed 25 Aug. 2017.
  2. Riggio, Ronald E. “Develop Your Kids Into Leaders: What to Do and When.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 June 2011, Accessed 25 Aug. 2017.
  3. Murphy, Susan Elaine, and Stefanie K. Johnson. “The benefits of a long-Lens approach to leader development: Understanding the seeds of leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 3, 2011, pp. 459–470., doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.04.004.
  4. Whitnah, Katherine T. A Phenomenological Inquiry: In the Context of Organizational Development, How Does Experiential Team Building in the Form of a High ROPES Course, Contribute to Positive Leadership Development, and How Can It Be Improved? Adler Graduate School. Web.
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