We asked 10 kids to “draw a leader”–here’s what they did

When adults are asked to draw a leader, they draw a man. But the kids we talked to had a lot more ideas.

We asked 10 kids to “draw a leader”–here’s what they did
[Photo: Rawpixel/iStock]

Kids have a lot of traits commonly identified in good leaders–brilliantly perceptive, brutally honest, ruthlessly observant, steadily curious.


So when we saw the The New York Times article reporting that executives–regardless of their own gender–generally drew a man when asked to draw a leader, we wondered when that bias starts and what lessons we could gain from asking kids the same questions.

After all, a child’s brain hasn’t been wired to years of bias, assumptions, and mental associations the way an adult’s brain has, so do the same kind of unconscious assumptions influence a child’s idea of leadership?

We asked 10 kids between the ages of 3 and 12 to “draw a leader.” Below are the results:


Emma, 3, drew her teacher, Ms. Noreen, because she ‘teaches me’ and her mom because she ‘feeds me yogurt.’

Emma [Photo: courtesy of Titilayo and Olugbenga Hassan]
Emma explained that she drew Ms. Noreen because she teaches her new things like how to count (Emma then demonstrated by counting from one to 10) and the alphabet (which Emma proved by singing the alphabet). She says her mom is a leader because she takes her to school, helps her with her homework, and feeds her yogurt. Emma says she’s also a leader herself because she helps her younger sister, Lily.

Emma’s parents are Titilayo and Olugbenga Hassan, both from Nigeria and are now living in Plano, Texas. Titilayo is an accountant and Olugbenga is an engineer.

Photo: courtesy of Titilayo and Olugbenga Hassan]

Parker, 4, drew a self-portrait of  herself leading her class.


Parker [Photo: courtesy of Megan and Eli Rubin]
In the class called Ladybug at South Jacksonville Presbyterian Preschool, students choose from a variety of roles daily. Four-year-old Parker remembers her role as leader for the day and draws a self-portrait to document it. As the leader, Parker says she led her classmates at lunch and the playground.

Parker’s parents are Megan and Eli Rubin. Eli is the COO of Xtraining Equipment and Again Faster and Megan is the owner and designer of Parker & Co. Florals and Design based in Jacksonville, Florida.

[Photo: courtesy of Megan and Eli Rubin]

Jack, 6, drew himself as a leader of turtles, and says a leader is someone who leads others to freedom.

Jack [Photo: courtesy of Lori Evans and William Bernstein]
When asked what he thinks leaders do, Jack, who is in the first grade, says that “a leader is someone who makes sure that a place is safe, like they lead others to … I think freedom.” For his drawing, Jack drew himself and a turtle, explaining that he knows “how there are leaders of turtles.” Jack admits that he hasn’t seen these turtles but he knows that “there are turtle schools and turtle moms and dads,” adding that they’re “the same as us but in turtles.” When asked how he knows about these turtle leaders, Jack answers matter-of-factly: “I just know.” When asked if he knows any leaders in real life, Jack says he knows many, listing [Barack] Obama, Abraham Lincoln–“I wasn’t alive then but I know about him”–and George Washington. Jack also names his dad as a leader, saying “I’m just guessing because I think that he’s a leader.” Jack adds that he thinks his teachers “might be a leader.” When asked if he thinks he’s a leader, Jack answers: “Of course I am,” quickly followed by “well, sometimes I am.”


[Photo: courtesy of Lori Evans and William Bernstein]
Jack’s parents are Lori Evans and William Bernstein. Lori is the co-founder of HeathReveal and William is a healthcare attorney. They live in New York.

Jala, 6, drew a picture of her mom and of a doctor.

Jala [Photo: courtesy of Jessica Stewart]
Jala, who is “six and a half,” drew a picture of her mom (top drawing) and of a doctor (bottom drawing). She says her mom is a “leader of youth” and in general, “a leader so I wanted to try to draw her as a leader.”

As for doctors, Jala says they’re leaders because “(They) help when people are sick, maybe a stomach ache or has to have a check up.”


When asked if she knows any other leaders, Jala mentions Victoria who she says works with her mom. She also believes that she’s a leader herself  “because sometimes at my school, when people need help, when they need a friend, when they really feel lonely, I just ask them, ‘do you want to be my friend?’ ” Jala says that both men and women can be leaders.

[Photos: courtesy of Jessica Stewart]
Jala’s mom’s Jessica Stewart is an entrepreneur based in Georgia.

Allyson, 6, thinks leaders ‘play with their friends and if somebody gets hurt, they help them.’

Allyson, who is in the first grade, says she drew the character in her drawing “because it looked like a leader.” When asked what qualities she thinks leaders should have, Allyson said that they should be “nice,” “help people,” and “talk nice.” When asked what she thinks a leader does all day, Allyson said leaders “play with their friends and if somebody gets hurt, they help them.” She names her teachers, friends, mom, and dad as leaders she knows. Allyson says her parents are leaders because “they help me get ready for Girls Scouts and soccer and whatever I do.” She says her teachers are leaders because they help her “learn stuff that we don’t know yet” and specifically lists “math and stuff to help our school, (like) cleaning up because our classroom is dirty all the time.”

Benjamin and Allyson [Photo: courtesy of Jennifer and Justin Miller]

Benjamin, 9, thinks a leader is “a nice guy who wears fancy clothes with a nice attitude.”

Allyson’s brother, Benjamin, explains that he doesn’t know Bill–the name of the leader in his drawing–but he was thinking of “a nice guy who wears fancy clothes with a nice attitude.” When asked what Bill’s doing with his hands, Benjamin explains that he’s a teacher getting people’s attention. When asked what leaders do all day, Benjamin speculates that “they probably just help people.” He adds that leaders should be “nice,” “not mean at all,” and “if someone gets in trouble, they’re not like, ‘oh you should be doing this and that.’ ” Benjamin thinks his parents and teachers are leaders. He also thinks he’s a leader, saying “I have a lot of friends and one time, one friend got hurt and I went to help him up.”

Allyson’s drawing (left) and Benjamin’s drawing (right) [Photos: courtesy of Jennifer and Justin Miller]
Allyson and Benjamin’s parents are Jennifer and Justin Miller. Jennifer is a speech language pathologist and Justin is a manager for General Motors. The Millers are based in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Jada, 9, drew a doctor because they ‘help save people’s lives’ and a lawyer because they ‘make sure that people are following the law.’

Jada [Photo: courtesy of Jeniece Stewart and Carlos Garcia. ]
Third grader Jada says she decided on a doctor because they “help save people’s lives” and a lawyer because they “make sure that people are following the law.” She adds that her grandmother is “either a nurse or a doctor” (Jada’s grandmother in a physician’s assistant). When asked how a leader should act, Jada says that “a leader should not act mean or have bad actions to make other people do what they’re doing and make other people follow along.” Jada names her grandmother and mom as leaders because “my grandma is a doctor and my mom helps with a business that helps with special needs siblings and people like to be mean to them or stuff like that because they’re not the same like everybody else.” Jada believes she’s a leader and when asked why, she answered: “Because I don’t do bad things and I don’t follow other people who do wrong and I do my work and I get it done and I get good grades.”

[Photos: courtesy of Jeniece Stewart and Carlos Garcia]

Caleb, 11, thinks a leader is ‘someone helping children in need.’

Caleb [Photo: courtesy of Jeniece Stewart and Carlos Garcia]
Jada’s brother, Caleb, who is in fifth grade, explains that his drawing is of a leader “helping children in need” (Caleb and Jada’s mom is the founder of Special Needs Siblings & Network Administrator). When asked how leaders should act, Caleb answered that “a leader should not follow other people that do wrong, and [they] should speak up for what’s right and do what’s right.” Caleb says he thinks it’s “challenging” to be a leader, especially “when you’re by the wrong people–they could really corrupt your character.”

When asked if he knows any leaders, Caleb names his classmate Gabby, who he says always “does what’s right,” adding that “she gets good grades and when we got our progress reports, she got over a 100 [score].” Caleb also lists his “mom, dad and family” as leaders, explaining that he follows them and “they help [him] do what’s right when it’s wrong.” Caleb lists famous leaders as Thurgood Marshall, because “he helped a brown girl against the Board of Education and schools are now unsegregated” and Martin Luther King because “he ended segregation.”

Caleb says he thinks it was hard to be a leader in the past “because they put you to work really hard and you hardly had enough time to do what’s right.” When asked if he thinks he’s a leader, Caleb answered “yes,” explaining: “I help my brother and sister. I do the right thing. I have good grades. And I don’t hang with bullies.”


[Photos: courtesy of Jeniece Stewart and Carlos Garcia]
Jada and Caleb’s parents are Jeniece Stewart and Carlos Garcia. Jeniece is the founder of Special Needs Siblings & Network Administrator and Carlos is a cable technician. They are based in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Tyler, 11, thinks a leader should always do the right thing–even when no one is watching, like Captain America.

From not hanging out with bullies to standing up to bad people to do the right thing–even when no one is watching–Tyler believes a leader should always step up to the plate. He drew Captain America because he’s one of Tyler’s favorite characters in the Marvel movies, explaining that “he leads people to do the right stuff.” Tyler, who is in the fifth grade, says a leader should be helpful, caring, and nice. He lists his mom, dad, and great-grandpa as leaders (the latter “because he was in World War 2.”)

[Photo: courtesy of Cori Abrams and David Sotsky]
Tyler’s parents are Cori Abrams and David Sotsky. Cori is an orthoptist at Children’s National Health System and independent presenter with Younique, and David is a financial adviser. They are based in Maryland.


Nora, 12, considers herself a good leader

Nora [Photo: courtesy of Kate and Sean Visser]
When she thinks of a leader, Nora thinks of Rosie Revere, a character created by writer-illustrator duo Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, who is a quiet schoolgirl by day, inventor of gizmos by night. Nora’s drawing also lists traits she thinks a leader should have, which includes being organized (“I like to get work done and if they can’t find something, it just takes time out … you could be doing something important”), the ability to think outside the box (“you don’t want someone who is always doing what everyone else is doing”), be able to bounce back from mistakes (“you don’t want them to get kind of stopped when one small thing happens. You want them to keep going, even if your project gets hard”), be funny (“if something does go wrong, they could laugh at it and not just be like ‘you did that wrong, you have to do it again'”), and be a book lover (“I love books. I would want my leader to like them too … just because”).

Nora lists her leaders as Jane Goodall (“because I love animals also”), Rosie Revere, Harriet Tubman, Michelle Obama (“definitely”), Hillary Clinton, her science teacher Dr. Rollins, and her mom (“she stands up for what she believes in and she does all the things I listed in my box [drawing]”).


When asked if she considers herself a leader, Nora, who is in the sixth grade, says she does, but admits that there are some things she still needs to work on, like her listening skills, because “you always have all these ideas you want to share and sometimes, you get so overwhelmed in your ideas that you don’t really pay attention to people when they have their own ideas.”

Nora’s parents are Kate and Sean Visser. Kate is an after school programs teacher at Nora’s school, Katherine Delmar Burkes School. Sean is a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department. The Vissers are based in San Francisco.

About the author

Vivian Giang is a business writer of gender conversations, leadership, entrepreneurship, workplace psychology, and whatever else she finds interesting related to work and play. You can find her on Twitter at @vivian_giang.