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Leadership and Chocolates: A Sweet Approach to Nurturing Leaders

From an early age, children display nascent traits of leadership. Remarkably, by the age of five, a child already possesses the basic ingredients necessary for engaging in leader-follower or peer-peer relationships. This early development is often propelled forward by incentives we offer—metaphorically referred to as chocolates. These incentives can help children understand the concepts of leadership and social interactions, setting a foundation for their future roles.


Chocolates as catalysts for development


Chocolates, both literally and figuratively, act as catalysts for developing decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical skills in children. They quickly learn what actions will earn them chocolate, which instincts they must control, and which cognitive behaviours they must exhibit to obtain that prized treat. This process of earning rewards teaches them essential leadership skills, reinforcing positive behaviours and self-control.


Drawing from our primate heritage and the predictable events of early childhood, one can anticipate the formation of a prototypical five-year-old child into a leader. A five-year-old has a sense of self and an understanding of others as individuals and as members of a group. They can appreciate simple stories and even create patterned narratives of their own. This ability to connect with others and articulate stories is a fundamental aspect of leadership. The incentives we offer—metaphorically referred to as chocolates—often propel them forward in this developmental journey, encouraging them to engage in social roles and leadership activities.


The power of positive reinforcement


From a very young age, children learn how to satiate their hunger for applause and appeasement. They start to understand the value of recognition and rewards, which motivates them to exhibit desirable behaviours. When further refined by schools, colleges, and professional training, this knowledge moulds them into leaders. This is why I call it the “Chocolate Theory.” It highlights the importance of positive reinforcement in nurturing leadership qualities, showing that even small incentives can significantly impact a child's development into a leader.


In this context, chocolates symbolize rewards given in the form of praise, badges, small incentives, and even responsibilities. Much like how chocolate melts on the tongue and induces euphoria, these rewards stimulate the child's sensory mind, creating a positive association with desirable behaviours. A leader’s role is to identify which “chocolate” will achieve the desired outcome. By offering the right incentives, leaders can guide children towards developing self-discipline, critical thinking, and social understanding. Thus, to cultivate leaders, one must be in a position to offer these metaphorical chocolates, shaping behaviours and fostering leadership skills from a young age.


Theoretical foundations


Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget have introduced us to crucial aspects of leadership relevant to the mind of a five-year-old. Freud emphasized that education involves teaching children to control their instincts. According to his broader psychoanalytic theory, the ego develops mechanisms to manage the child’s impulses. This ability to control impulses is foundational to leadership, as it helps foster self-discipline and thoughtful decision-making.


Piaget's theory of cognitive development offers further insight into the stages that support leadership skills. He identified four major stages: sensorimotor intelligence, preoperational thinking, concrete operational thinking, and formal operational thinking. By the age of five, children are typically in the preoperational stage. This stage is characterized by symbolic thinking, egocentrism, and the beginnings of logical reasoning. During this period, children start to understand rules, social roles, and how to take others’ perspectives. These skills are key components in both leading and following.


Applying the Chocolate Theory


To illustrate, during my tenure as Vice Principal at a school, we applied the theory of leadership and chocolates practically. When a senior student was caught doing something mischievous, they were penalized by being asked to provide a box of chocolates, which they were made to distribute in the kindergarten class. As each chocolate was given, the young children would bless the senior, saying, "God bless you, Bhaiya/Didi." This practice aimed to remind senior students of their own innocence in younger years and reflect on their current behaviour. It also served to create a sense of accountability, as the seniors had to face the consequences of their actions in a positive and nurturing environment.


This approach taught seniors to control their impulses and respond thoughtfully to negative situations rather than reacting impulsively. This practice aligns with Freud’s emphasis on managing instincts, fostering self-discipline and reflective decision-making.


On the one hand, seniors learned the value of self-control and thoughtful responses, crucial traits for effective leadership. On the other hand, younger children began to recognize the impact of their observations and the consequences of their actions. For instance, a five-year-old might realize, “If I point out the senior’s mistake, they will have to give chocolates to all of us.” This understanding demonstrates early leadership skills, such as observation and consequence assessment, even though it needs refinement to avoid manipulating situations purely for personal gain. This dual approach ensures that both seniors and juniors develop key aspects of leadership in a balanced and ethical manner.


Fostering a culture of accountability


The school rule is clear: report but never react, to avoid being complicit in the situation. This principle was designed to encourage students to engage in concrete operational thinking, a concept defined by Piaget. By reporting issues rather than reacting impulsively, students were guided to use logic and reasoning to address problems. This approach emphasized the importance of maintaining self-control and making thoughtful decisions rather than acting on immediate emotions.


This practice has helped in fostering a culture of accountability within the school. Students understood that their role was not just to avoid negative behaviours but to actively contribute to a positive and just environment. By reporting incidents, they participated in a system that valued truth and justice, reinforcing the idea that leadership involves not just personal behaviour but also influencing and upholding community standards.


In essence, leadership, much like distributing chocolates, involves offering incentives that encourage positive behaviour and thoughtful responses, fostering a culture of self-control and reflection from a young age. Integrating Freud's and Piaget's theories, we see that effective leadership development hinges on managing instincts and engaging in progressively sophisticated cognitive processes. By fostering these traits early on, educators can create an environment that encourages children to practise leadership skills in real-life situations. This combination of theoretical understanding and practical application helps children internalize the qualities of effective leaders. Ultimately, the "Chocolate Theory" serves as a metaphor for the importance of positive reinforcement in cultivating future leaders, demonstrating that even simple incentives can significantly develop essential leadership skills from a young age.

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