Choosing Leaders

As we have an election coming up in Western Australia this weekend I have been thinking about what makes a leader and the process by which leaders get elected, whether in a political capacity or on the sporting field or in the boardroom. Practice for this experience starts at school.

I was reminded of a great book I read some time ago about personality and how our innate personality tends to dominate our chosen careers and our positions within those careers. The book is Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. She describes 4 basic types, not dissimilar to the Myers Briggs assessments used by HR people but very much simplified and more applicable to every situation, not just the working arena.

The first one she describes is the natural born leader, or Choleric. (All her names refer to the ancient ‘Humours’ of mediaeval times as it was once believed one’s personality was based on bodily fluids. Her book, I’m pleased to say, has moved on from those days.) It is interesting that the leader, the Choleric, should appear first. I suppose that’s logical. When you look around at the children in your midst you see them straight away – the ones always wanting to be the leaders. They naturally take charge in games, even friendly playground games. This is to be encouraged while not allowing them to dominate others, which is their natural tendency. The irritating thing about them is that their decisions are usually right but they can be dogmatic and insensitive to others whom they can see as annoying. They simply want to get on with things because they know what to do and don’t want to wait for the others to catch up. (Recognize anyone so far?) We want all our children to have a go at being ‘leader’ or performing on stage but that is not the natural state for a lot of children, which is not to say we shouldn’t encourage them. They should all develop that ability to some extent.

Another group are sanguines – the life and soul of the party types. These are the ones who make everything a joy and a laugh. They are wonderful fun to be around but can be disorganised and way too talkative to ever get anything done. They make great teachers because they tend to be kind and sensitive and they make the lessons fun. Those children (and adults) have to learn to let others have their say.

A third group are melancholics. These are the organised, precise types. If you want something done, quickly and properly, then get a melancholic to do it. They can get overwhelmed with perfectionism, however, and be driven nuts by others around them who don’t share their obsession with order.

The final group are the phlegmatics. These are the laid-back types who take life in their stride. Interestingly, it is often these people who are promoted to leadership roles rather than the cholerics because they are very easy to get along with. They don’t ruffle any feathers the way cholerics can tend to do. If left too much to their own devices, however, they can be lazy, so don’t let them get away with excuses.

When you set children a task, the cholerics will do it quickly and be very competitive, wanting to be first to finish the task. Winning and being the best is paramount. The sanguines can tend to get bored half-way through and want to stop to have a chat or gaze out the window but brought back into line will be willing students. After all, they want to be liked so that will be their motivation. They won’t want to make the teacher angry. The melancholics may take the longest because being the neatest and doing everything perfectly may delay them. The phlegmatics will want to do the task because their motivation is doing the right thing, irrespective of ‘winning the race’, although it may be a little sloppy as they often can’t be bothered.

The motivation for completing the task, therefore, is different for each group of children depending on their personalities. Cholerics want to win, sanguines want to be liked, melancholics want to be perfect, phlegmatics want to do the right thing. This is a generalisation, but you get the picture. And, of course, we all have aspects of all the groups but generally one will dominate.

So you can clearly see from these differences why it is important in group work to have each of the personality types represented because they each bring special skills and talents to the table. This can clearly be seen even in quite young children. That is not to say behaviour can’t be learnt or modified or that your personality is cast in concrete, but rather that innate personality traits are obvious even in the very young. What we need to do as educators is to bring out the best in every one of our children so they play to their strengths while minimising their weaknesses, for want of a better word. Above all, we want them to learn to modify their behaviour to allow for differences of opinion and approaches to a task. Because others behave or think differently, it doesn’t make them wrong. This is an important lesson in tolerance and understanding for children to learn.

How does this play out in the political arena? Are all our leaders cholerics? Not necessarily and neither should they be, but where they are not cholerics, you can be sure a choleric is a close advisor.

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About Kidz-Fiz-Biz

Marlene Rattigan is teacher in Early Childhood & of English as a Second Language & from 1987-2000 was an accredited fitness leader.
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