Over 300 parents, located around the world, rated the frequency (on a five-point scale) with which their children—aged 2 to 22 years old—demonstrate 10 leadership potential characteristics. For one of these, Motivation to Lead (displaying an upward ambition to influence or pursuing formal/informal leadership opportunities), we see an early enthusiasm for leadership among toddlers (4.2) that dramatically falls away during middle school (3.0).
Motivation to Lead: How Boys and Girls Stack Up En Route to Adulthood
The gender gap widens after high school
Parents rate children on interest in leadership (five-point scale)
What explains this drop in motivation? Open-ended comments from parents cited the pressure for young teens to follow the status quo rather than stand out from the “pack.” One survey participant summed this up succinctly: “My oldest daughter used to be totally comfortable in a leadership role but, as she got older, she became more of a conformist and now sometimes completely lacks self-confidence.”
For females, restoring initial levels of motivation for leadership is a greater challenge. Our data indicate that male enthusiasm for leadership climbs after high school and rises to 4.4 in college/university. Meanwhile, female motivation improves steadily as well but never reaches higher than a 3.5 rating—much below the level of their two- to five-year-old selves. This gender “gap” is concerning. How can we drive diversity in the working world when females are less motivated to lead? Organisations should be on alert and look for ways to encourage females to lead early in their careers (e.g., apprenticeships or cohort groups) and ensure a balanced pipeline.
From Classroom to Boardroom
Early identification and development of leadership potential.