Thursday, July 17, 2008

Journey to the West (Part 3)

I've wondered about whether instilling discipline in the gifted is the same as any other kind of discipline. If you select the gifted and talented on the basis of one set of measurements, is it then valid to differentiate your approach to them in an area that is largely unrelated?

I suspect the answer does not lie in the brains of the gifted, but in the brains of the institution that seeks to educate them. There are always clever approaches and there are always approaches that can be made to look clever. The former will have genuine positive impact; the latter may work for some clients and may attract derision from others. Caveat emptor, as the Romans would have said.

And there's always the issue of 'leadership training'. Should all those who are identified as 'gifted and talented' automatically be presumed to have the potential to be excellent leaders? Does a more integrative brain with more drive and determination make a person a better leader?

It is tempting to affirm this and assert that all such students have a higher leadership potential. But there is one problem that would entertain Hippocrates and his ilk: what if interventions to unlock that potential actually have a negative effect on those who do not (by nature, temperament, breeding or inclination) have significantly higher potential than the mean?

And how would you define that potential anyway? It seems rather circular, something along the lines of: "People with traits A, B and C are better at X, Y and Z which we have found to be traits of people who we have identified as successful leaders because we say so. And you must believe us because we are leaders in our field of leadership studies."

I've found that leadership potential is a lot like intelligence; some of that ability is enhanced and made to look better by environmental context. If you need a person good at hitting targets with a javelin, then that javelin-throwing skill might make the javelin-thrower look smarter and a better leader. Again, it comes back to the kind of society we live in. The kind of information-processing skills once derided as 'wonkish' is a set of skills now very much in demand.

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