An Interview with Steven I. Pfeiffer: The Upcoming Election, Youth Leadership, High IQ and Creativity

Oct 4, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Steven, you have just had a short piece on leadership posted on The Creativity Post. What brought this about?

Michael, I have long been interested in youth leadership development and whether leadership properly fits under the umbrella of giftedness, as the Federal Definition of Giftedness suggests. During my tenure as Executive Director of the Duke TIP program, I helped develop and co-teach a youth leadership development course offered on the campus of Duke University. It was a 2-week pilot program. I was particularly interested in determining whether high IQ was a necessary component of leadership. We recruited extraordinarily bright kids to the Duke TIP summer program, 7th and 8th graders with incredibly high SAT test scores, arguably a good proxy for IQ. I also was very interested in determining whether one could actually intervene in a meaningful way to increase leadership-related skills in bright youth.

2) Let’s get specific- what are “leadership skills” and how do you define Creativity?

Two excellent questions! Let me start with leadership skills, perhaps the easier of the two questions! When we developed the Gifted Rating Scales (GRS), a teacher-completed rating scale used to help educators determine the level of giftedness of kids in the schools, we included a 12-item leadership scale.  Items on the leadership scale reflect, really, how I conceptualize leadership. For example, the GRS asks teachers to rate the student on things such as a student’s ability to motivate other students toward a shared goal, a student’s ability to monitor social dynamics, and excel in interpersonal communication and conflict resolution.  And, of course, whether the student has integrity and is trustworthy, takes initiative in social situations, and enjoys working with others. In many ways, these leadership items tap perhaps what some have called “street smarts” or social/emotional intelligence.

Creativity, in my view, reflects a student’s ability to think, act and /or produce unique, original, novel or innovative thoughts, ideas or products. We also have a 12-item creativity scale on the GRS, and this is how we conceptualized creativity. Our view is pretty consistent with the position of other folks who write about, research and study creativity among kids.

3) You and I know about the threshold issue or problem- but could you provide our readers with some understanding of this?

Mike, I guess you are referring to the idea among many in the gifted field that there is a minimal IQ threshold for students to be successful in many academic domains, particularly domains or fields that most would agree require considerable mental horsepower. For example, to excel and become eminent in fields such as mathematics, engineering or physics, most would agree that motivation and effort are important but not enough. The student also needs an advanced level of cognitive ability. This is what is meant by the threshold. Each domain or field, theoretically, has its own unique threshold. This is theoretical and speculative, and there is not a whole lot of hard data on this beyond the few fields that I just mentioned – mathematics, engineering and physics.

For example, we really don’t know how bright someone must be – that threshold point – before we can safely predict that with the right education, motivation, mentoring, experiences, and opportunities, these individuals will likely develop into highly successful and competent professionals and distinguish themselves in their chosen field.

My article in The Creativity Post suggests that our future leaders don’t necessarily have to be über-brilliant or super-creative to be successful leaders. It perhaps doesn’t hurt. Although this we don’t know. But it is pretty clear that one doesn’t have to be a class valedictorian or have the highest SAT or ACT test scores in their high school to qualify to be our next generation of leaders. That was one of the main points in my short piece in The Creativity Post.

4) The current president may have some people skills, but I am dubious about his economic skills. How do these two relate to intelligence and creativity?

Being president of the U.S. is certainly different and requires different skills and dispositions than being the leader of a non-profit organization, a Fortune 500 Company, a University, a college or NFL football team, or in charge of a Marine battalion. I am not sure that I agree with the premise of your question that President Obama doesn’t have super economic skills. I’m not sure that the President of the U.S. needs to be a brilliant economist. What Obama or for that matter, any past or future U.S. President requires, however, at least in my opinion, is an openness to entertain diverse economic and fiscal theories, opinions, facts, and points of view.

The U.S. President also needs to possess a high degree of  openness to experience, as we term this character trait in psychology. In other words, what is required is a willingness to suspend judgment until the President carefully and methodically weighs each different opinion. And can craft, with a ton of sound if diverse input from his trusted team of experts, a strategy or solution that best reflects what we know about the fiscal issue or problem the country might be facing at the time. So, back to my point about intelligence and creativity.

The President of the U.S. needs to be bright, for sure. And he or she – if we are so lucky to have a female leader in the not-too-distant-future! – needs to be able to see solutions ‘outside of the box.’ But the more important characteristic, in my opinion, for our leaders of tomorrow is an openness and willingness to hear and understand and entertain diverse opinions and views. To not rush to judgment…. To mull over and reflect on the many different aspects of the very complex problems that presidents and leaders of organizations daily face.  They need to surround themselves with very bright and very creative – and very honest and competent and thoughtful team members – to help provide the recommendations that will lead to good decisions!

5) Ronald Reagan seemed to be a president with great leadership, authority, and communication skills. Could you informally evaluate his intelligence?

History is certainly painting a very favorable portrait of the leadership skills and successes that President Reagan demonstrated during his tenure as President.  I never met President Reagan. I can only speculate on his intelligence, based on what I’ve read and heard. He was clearly a bright fellow. Not über-bright, perhaps.  Not a 500-horsepower IQ-type of guy. But he was street smart, what some might say quite  high on emotional intelligence. He was known to be a keen reader of others’ emotions and was quite savvy interpersonally. So in these ways, he was very bright.

6) Now, let’s talk youth leadership- should the schools be training leaders-? Or should that be left to the Boy Scouts, churches, sports, and other venues?

That’s a very good question! It really depends on the value that school districts place, at the local level, on promoting youth leadership. There are a number of ways that schools can provide creative venues for introducing and promoting the development of leadership skills among students. Volunteerism and service learning activities are but two obvious activities, both of which could be offered after school or on weekends so as not to interfere with traditional classroom learning. Existing clubs and programs within the school culture are also excellent vehicles for developing leadership skills, attitudes and sensitivities.  For example, it would be easy to incorporate leadership development modules within current athletic teams, student council, debate club, student newspaper, orchestra, band, and a host of other clubs and activities. In other words, without much fanfare or additional cost, leadership programs could be infused within what already exists in America’s schools.

7) I think we have a pretty stark contrast in the next election- could you compare and contrast Obama and Romney on I.Q. , leadership and creativity ?

Michael, my grandma once told me, many years ago, to not mess with things that you really don’t know anything about. Good advice that I’ve tried to heed my entire life.  I think I’ll stick with Grandma Ida’s wise counsel and pass on this question! Hahaha… Look, if you asked me to tell you why I prefer Obama or Romney in the upcoming election, I’d probably not shy away from that question.

Although your readers probably could care less about my opinion on whom I plan to vote for in November! But it really would be imprudent, presumptuous and even foolish for me to try to gauge which of our two contestants might have a higher tested IQ, leadership quotient, or creativity aptitude!  I suspect, and hope, that they both are bright, intuitive, quick learners, open to diverse points of view, and creative. Equally important as a world leader, I sincerely hope that they both are honest, trustworthy, and concerned for the welfare of the country and all of its citizens! And for how we in America can become a good, respected global citizen. No easy chore!

8) I know that you have a new book coming out, and I promise to do an in depth interview- but could you BRIEFLY tell our readers about it and how to get it?

Sure. Thanks for asking. The title of my new book is, Serving the Gifted. The book just came out. It is published by Routledge and is part of the company’s exciting “School-Based Practice in Action Series.”  The book was written for practitioners who work with gifted and talented kids. It is intended to serve as a practical and easy-to-use resource for working with gifted students, their teachers, and their parents and families.

Topics that I cover in the book include new ways to identify and assess gifted students; information for understanding the needs of high ability kids; counseling and psychotherapy strategies; career counseling for gifted and talented students; methods for working with the families of the gifted; and legally-correct and ethically-smart counseling techniques. There is a unique chapter in which I take on the most frequently asked questions about the gifted, such as homeschooling, acceleration, the impact of giftedness on psychological well-being, whether shyness, perfectionism or underachievement are more characteristic of gifted kids, and how Response to Intervention meshes with gifted education.

The book includes a CD with pretty cool resources such as PowerPoint presentations and reproducible handouts and forms that can be used by practitioners working in the schools. The link to my new book is

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Michael, this was an enjoyable interview! You’ve covered, as they say, a lot of territory. Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on leadership, creativity and IQ!

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