Since our modern society is fueled by innovation, leaders are needed in every field to develop ingenious, out-of-box thinking not just in themselves -- more importantly in their people. Creating environment that release greatness in others is quickly becoming the most important challenge of the 21st century and one that will pay off for generations to come.
We now know that there are parts of the brain which light up when the environment feels friendly -- and nourishing -- and trusting. When the prefrontal cortex lights up -- it illuminates other parts of the brain and activates an array of electro-chemical networks that give rise to new thinking, new abilities to put words to thoughts, new abilities to see connections never before seen, and the capacity to go beyond the knowledge that currently exists to new knowledge, insight and wisdom. These are the capacities needed to invent what has not yet been invented -- a capacity we call 'gifted.'
What would happen in the world if we could create environments where more people could be considered gifted? Well we can!
Gifting Our Next Generation
Fifty years ago, I did a research fellowship at Drexel University to study environments conducive to raising extraordinary children. We -- the researchers -- intentionally practiced engaging without judgment -- listening to connect -- asking questions to stimulate curiosity -- and allowing the children freedom of expression, no matter how unusual the expression was.
We didn't correct them -- we cultivated self-expression. We built a 'Talking Typewriter' that allowed them to learn to learn to read 'on stories they has told us about the world -- and pictures they drew about the world.' We, the researchers only had to program the Talking Typewriter with their stories, and give them a chance to 'play with the typewriter through five levels of learning, and they all learned to read. More than that, they all developed a sense of presence, and confidence unique to their age group.
Then we followed them for 10 years through school and the results surprised us beyond our wildest imaginations. Their IQ's jumped 15 points, they were all emotionally secure and at peace with themselves, they acted 2 years more mature than their peers, and all went on to colleague. This was a research study worth replicating.
How Releasing Greatness Pays off
This year, I participated in The Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards in New York City, and had the opportunity to interview 5 parents who have raised extraordinary children -- children whose interests and curiosities placed them in the top .001% of innovators in their age groups -- maybe beyond what we would expect of adults. What did their parents do to bring out greatness in their children? See if any of these nine practices are in your parenting -- or for that matter leadership -- repertoire.
Don't be too big for your own boots.
All children are born with their individual character, temperament, personality and tastes. Giving birth to your child doesn't give you control over his or her life. As author Kahlil Gibran writes: "Your children are not your children. They're the sons and daughters of Life's longing by itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you." What lies in the sphere of your influence is building trustworthy relationships with your children that boost their self-confidence and stimulate their creative abilities.
Accept their identity.
Let your children be free in mind, even if they do things that seem strange or stupid to you and other people. Anthony Weintraub, a New York-based filmmaker and father of nine-year-old Asher, creator of Menurkey, shared his story: "Asher did a lot of weird stuff. When we went to stores or museums, he would point at things with his fingers, like a gun, and click them. I kept asking what he was doing. He replied that he made a selection." What was he 'remembering and photographing? What was his mind finding so incredibly spectacular? How was he harvesting new passions to put fire in his belly and innovation in his heart? Silly things don't mean wrong or bad. Let your kids be themselves, dream and imagine things, and they'll find their own way of looking at the world.
Rely on trust, not power or authority.
It's easier to give orders -- like saying: "Do what I've tell you" instead of listening to your child's voice and ideas. Using power of parental authority is, in fact, the fastest way to get the expected results and behaviors however at great cost to you and your child. At the core of parental expectations are their own life experience, social norms, and biases. Parents try to make their children follow their life-patterns; try to impose their own views and understanding of the world from their own prospective. This approach suppresses their children's prefrontal cortex -- the part of the brain where innovative thinking initiates -- and thus stunts their ability to exercise creativity and find fresh solutions.
Since the prefrontal cortex connects with the heart to fuel passions and aspirations, parents who judge and evaluate their children's passions are unknowingly limiting their children's influence in the world. To develop advanced capabilities in your children's brain, you need to create a culture of trust where they feel secure enough to play, to experiment, to wonder, to imagine and to give birth to new inventions, as Asher went on to do.
Listen to connect -- step into your kid's world.
Listening to Connect is the most powerful and universal framework of Conversational Intelligence and it is appropriate for all ages. As children and as adults, we thrive on connection and affirmation, not criticism and judgment. Listen to your children with full attention; step into their shoes; explore their inner world; and show your interest in what they do. By listening to connect, you send signals of trust that stimulate your kids to experiment, learn new information and take risks.
Involve instead of push.
Giving your children an active role develops them as leaders, not just followers. Jane Andraka, the mother of Jack who is a young scientist and cancer researcher, said: "I didn't force him to read books that I thought were interesting or important. Instead I just casually displayed different books and magazines and observed what he was interested in; then we could talk about it." Open the universe to your children by encouraging them to learn about various subjects, challenge them with games and problem-solving activities, tell them stories (our brains remember stories better than any other form of information-sharing), engage in discussions and stimulate critical thinking.
Respect their environment.
Cremona Ticea, mom to Nicole, a 16-year-old developer of a new HIV test, said: "Nicole is very modest and private. She never shares her successes at school. She is a very talented writer. But I think I'll be able to read her books after they are published and I buy them in the bookstore like other people." Allowing your children to create rules of engagement regarding how they want to be with you and the rest of the world is giving them place to harvest their talents. Some kids want to be pushed out, and some are comfortable staying inside. Respecting their environment is a necessary step.
Engage extraordinary personality.
Children and adults live in the world of peer pressure and group thinking. Feeling accepted and included is as important for adults as it is for children, especially for those with advanced abilities and developed intellectual interests. They often hide or deny their abilities to fit in better with other children and groups. Susan, the mother of Scooter and Adam Braun, said: "Our family mantra is: 'We're different, we have our own standards and set of values. We're not looking at what others do, we're doing it our own way.' This mantra had an impact on her children when they were making decisions about their careers. They didn't even think about following a regular path." Expressing love and accepting uniqueness are the best ways to inspire your children's desire to explore the world and to be different and unique. Do it and watch them thrive, not just survive!
Find good mentors.
Several social and psychological studies prove that carefully tailored mentoring of young people in their activities by caring adults increases their intellectual abilities and potential by building their self-esteem, strengthening their mental health, and opening new social relationships beyond the family or primary care system. Ralph Suarez, the father of Thomas, who developed computer apps at the age of 9 and 3D printing technologies at the age of 14, shared: 'When Thomas was five, he would go to Apple Stores and talk with teenagers, young adults, or older people about technology. At first, it alarmed my wife and me: why would they talk with a kid? I now tell parents that children need to have the mentors in their field of interest. Yes, you need to keep an eye on it, but encourage it -- let them communicate."
Maximize appreciation - minimize criticizing.
Conversational chemistry can be of great help to parents. When children face criticism, rejection or fear or they feel marginalized or minimized, their bodies produce higher cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of their brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. They become more reactive and sensitive, perceiving greater negativity. Positive comments, words of support and encouragement also produce a chemical reaction. They activating networks in the prefrontal cortex and spur the production of oxytocin -- a feel-good hormone that elevates the ability to collaborate, communicate, and think innovatively.
Every conversation you have with your child can either open up their future or close it down. The choice is yours -- and the life is theirs! Use wisdom not force to release greatness. Allow them to rise above what is expected and free them to fly, dream and explore -- and when they do they will the world will be a greater place for all of us!
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013).