Tips for Parents: Leadership Skills for Gifted Kids
Balzac, S.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Stephen R. Balzac of 7 Steps Ahead. He highlights a number of helpful tips on leadership and decision-making.

Key points on leadership

  • Leadership is a function of the situation, the person, and the group
  • A group without a leader is a disorganized horde
  • A leader without a group is just some joker taking a walk
  • Most of what we think of as leadership is a myth based on TV, movies, books, etc
    • Most “leadership behaviors” are not leadership, they are tools of leadership
      • For example, setting the agenda is not leadership, but a leader might do it especially in the early stage of a group

The leader and the group

  • You cannot separate the leader from the group
  • Being a good leader in one group doesn’t mean you’ll be a good leader with another group
    • It depends on the people, situation, project, etc
  • Groups go through developmental stages and hence leadership must as well
    • Group stages and psychological characteristics
      • Forming – Dependency and inclusion
      • Storming – Counter-dependency and fight
      • Norming – Trust and structure
      • Performing – High performance
    • Corresponding leader behaviors
      • Telling – Forming groups are chaotic and need structure
      • Selling – Storming groups require negotiation and persuasion in order to grow
      • Participating – The leader is an active part of the group
      • Delegating – The leader acts as advisor, consultant, and strategic thinker
  • You have to build the group before you can solve the problem or work on the project
    • Sometimes these things will happen simultaneously

Six methods of decision making

  • Plop!
    • Ideas are suggested one after another. Each idea plops to the ground
    • Many floors are covered in plops
    • Common in early stage groups with no leadership or where the leader isn’t providing direction
  • Autocratic rule
    • The leader makes the decisions
    • May or may not request member input
    • Members may or may not be capable of executing decisions
    • Good for simple problems, but breaks down as complexity increases
    • Necessary for Forming groups, can be deadly in Storming
  • Minority rule
    • One or two people hijack the decision making process
      • “Let’s do it this way, anyone object? Okay, let’s go.”
      • Person 1 says, “Let’s do this, what do you think?” and person 2 says, “Yes, let’s go. Decision made.”
  • Voting
    • Culturally normal in western democracies
    • Surprisingly difficult to do well. Takes a fairly sophisticated group and leader.
    • Creates coalitions and opposition if not handled well.
  • Consensus
    • Not unanimity, but agreement that the group can agree
    • Each person must feel heard
    • Each person must feel comfortable with supporting the decision the group makes
    • Check for readiness before voting
    • Is a relatively sophisticated form of decision making; requires patience from the leader and some degree of group development. Forming groups have trouble with consensus.
  • Unanimous consent
    • Sounds good, but rarely possible. Focus on consensus.

Key emotions in leadership

  • Fear – extremely popular, but very destructive. Leaders who unite the group or motivate through fear are trapping the group in underperformance
  • Relatedness – The leader needs to model building connections and appreciation between members
    • Build the status of each person
  • Autonomy – People need the freedom to work as they see fit
    • Autonomy results from having structure, not from lack of structure
    • When you tell people how to do their work, you step on their autonomy
  • Competence – Create an atmosphere of competence
    • Focus on success, not failure
    • Paint an optimistic vision
    • Find opportunities to praise accomplishments both related to the group project and outside of it

Asking Questions

  • Lead by asking questions 
  • Invite ideas, thoughts, and opinions 
  • Don’t rush. Rushing causes resistence.

Practice, practice, practice

  • Leadership is a skill
  • Don’t expect to get it right every time 
  • Learn from mistakes 
  • Keep practicing

Stephen Balzac is an expert on leadership and organizational development. A consultant, author, and professional speaker, he is president of 7 Steps Ahead, an organizational development firm focused on helping businesses get unstuck. Steve is the author of “The McGraw‐Hill 36‐Hour Course in Organizational Development,” and “Organizational Psychology for Managers.” He is also a contributing author to volume one of “Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.” For more information, or to sign up for Steve’s monthly newsletter, visit

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