Creating Leaders, and developing in our students the 21st century skills which relate and support leadership, is one of my main projects in education.

(Although it is entirely important to note that I am very aware of, and very interested in, the nuance of what we mean by leadership; I have written appreciatively of new models of “innovative leadership,” and I am also admiring and mulling over a recent HBR piece calling for a  new model of a leader, one which might better be labeled “builder.” )

Jerald’s report on Defining a 21st century education I have recently reviewed, very favorably; today I want to look more closely at what he says about leadership and collaboration skill developments.   The topic comes up first when considering a study about various competencies, and their correlation to later success: Math, we learn, is most significant factor (among six)  for students enrolling in post-secondary ed., most in completing bachelor’s degrees, and most in predicting future earnings.  Math matters.

But I am intrigued to see that while leadership roles, and sports-related competencies are not so significant for enrolling in post-secondary or completing bachelors, they are significant for future earnings potentials. Jerald writes that

“The Mathematica study clearly shows the significant impact of leadership and teamwork (sports related competencies) on later earnings; while math had the biggest impact of any individual skill, the combined impact of leadership and teamwork was actually greater. [important to note] the study measured leadership and sports-related competencies by participation in such extracurricular activities during high school.

Jerald also draws from a report by the Conference Board, “are they really ready to work?  (October 2006).   Here, the research found that employers cite “teamwork/collaboration” as the second most important competency for new entrants (out of a list of 20, and much higher than mathematics).  When considering what skills are expected to become more important in the future, employers rated teamwork/collaboration as third on the list (74%), and leadership as fifth (67% said it is becoming more important.)  Employers in this same survey rated leadership as a skill area in which employees are especially deficient.

A third report informing Jerald is one called Leadership Skills and Wages, by Kuhn and Weinberger (2005).  Jerald writes that they find

” ‘Controlling for cognitive skills, men who occupied leadership positions in high schools earn more as adults. The pure leadership-wage effect varies, depending on definitions and time period, from 4% to 33%… [They also report findings] that leadership is not just a natural talent, but one that can be developed in extracurricular activities: ‘At least some component of leadership skill is fostered by occupying leadership positions during high school.'”

Finally, a fourth citation is made to a 2008 report called “Do Skills and Behaviors in High School Matter?” The conclusion: “Students who participated in sports and other extracurricular activities during high school activities had higher earnings 10 years later, even after controlling for cognitive skills as measured by test scores.”

[I suppose I must offer an aside as to whether I am making too much of money and income earnings.  My goal is not to see students make high incomes in their future, it is to see them find success and rewards in their career pursuits.  This research provides evidence that there are financial rewards, in employment earnings, for leadership preparation, and I am using that as an indicator that they are being generally successful in careers.  But I realize that this indicator could be qualified, argued, or perhaps rejected by some.)

With that qualified, I feel confident in concluding from this research that schools which provide students wide and frequent leadership experiences and training will contribute to their students’ greater success in their future.

But we need to support their growth in communication and collaboration as well, Jerald helps us understand.  “It is not just corporate jobs that are becoming more collaborative, but many kinds of work.”:

It begins with teaching our students, as a high priority, oral and written communication skills– this Jerald makes clear.  But we also must help them grow as team-members– and for this discussion, Jerald makes fine use of a report from the OECD called the DeSecCo project: Definition and Selection of Competencies.   These OECD authors seem to have done a quite thoughtful job articulating the key elements of effective collaboration, or “the ability to interact in heterogeneous groups.”

They provide a great list, including the ability to relate well to others (Empathy, Emotional management); The ability to cooperate (present ideas, listen, negotiate, make judicious decisions), and the ability to manage and resolve conflicts (analyze, reframe, prioritize).   It is a good list, and would be fascinating to use as a rubric or tool for guiding students to be better collaborators and team-members.