Reflections on #Leadership: What My Students Have Taught Me

This year, I taught Leadership in Business for the first time. I loved teaching it. And the best part was how much I learned from my students. Here are some quotes from the end of semester leadership reflection assignment.

One student noted that her biggest surprises were related to the lack of agreement on trait theory:

I am still surprised about the question is a leader is “made or born”, and that there is no definitive answer to that question. During the entire semester I was thinking about this question and changed my answer with every new reading or case we had.

An exchange student noted the differences in expectations between schools around the world:

Reading several scholarly articles about a topic enabled me to see several different points of view, which I think taught me that there are always two side to a story and also that it is important to find reliable sources. At my home university we were always restricted in our thought processes, and I felt as if the University wanted us to believe in only one “truth” or point of view… Studying in Canada, I felt free to have my own opinion on topics, and question motives for the first time.

Another student noted the importance of reflection away from a group:

I was grateful for having a unique perspective [as an observer] during [the position of power exercise] role plays. I am guilty of falling into the mindset of the group as a whole during similar activities when I am a member of a group. This made me more conscious towards beginning to take a moment to remove myself in order to gain clarity in future problems.

Another student talked about her implicit theories of leadership. This one frankly shocked me. I teach at a women’s college, yet most of the young women in the room still routinely referred to men when talking about leadership:

My personal assumption (and what appears to be the over all class assumption) that leaders are men and how I view them because of that is something that I need to be more aware of and change. How can I promote the idea of more women in leadership, if my initial thought is “he” when gender is absent from a reading.

A final thought that perhaps summarizes the class best:

Before this course my beliefs around leadership in business were underdeveloped and fairly black and white. I believed that business leadership could almost be broken down into a formula to succeed and the politics of the organization played the largest role in determining success.  After looking at case studies, scholarly articles and through class exercises I have learned that this assumption is flawed. The success of leaders lies far more heavily with the reactions of the followers within the organization. The relationship between leaders and their followers is on that is built on trust and is a vital relationship for not only the success of the leader but also the organization as a whole. I have learned that decision making is something that is a process and not always an easy decision.

And me? I learned a lot. But the most important lesson for me was that no matter how much leadership potential someone starts with, as long as they are willing to work hard, and challenge their views of themselves, they can develop their understanding of leadership and of themselves.

5 replies »

  1. I’ve tried to find an article I believe I read in Walk the Talk. It adds an extension to classroom learning that falls in line with what your students have experienced. Its essence was that some choices lead to experience and other choices lead to success because of that experience. I’ll try and do it justice in recounting it. “A young manager in a small manufacturing firm made a series of choices that turned into a huge blunder for that size of firm. Realizing this, the next morning the young manager handed in his resignation to his boss. The boss after a few moments thought looked at his young manager and said, ‘ I just spent $35,000 educating you. Why would I want to let you go now? Get back to work and use that education!’
    Not common, though a great story.
    Now for a walk into the minefield of life. Your young student who is worried about using feminine pronouns for masculine in thought patterns does herself a disjustice. She places herself, and all women, in the never ending role of “Victim”. There is no escape from this mindset in the direction this path leads. Use the same energy to change masculine and feminine to personal as in “I”, “ME”, “MINE”. Empower yourself first. An empowered “Person” is more likely to have twice as much support and personal power. Become an empowered leader. Your influence from that position will have greater effect and your goal of promoting more women into positions of leadership will happen as a matter of course.
    Just a thought.

  2. Colleen, yes. I’m with you. “But the most important lesson for me was that no matter how much leadership potential someone starts with, as long as they are willing to work hard, and challenge their views of themselves, they can develop their understanding of leadership and of themselves.”

  3. Nice read Colleen. I think perhaps a number of your students gained an appreciation that leadership is an art and not a science. Arts are developed and polished over time. There is no formulae for “effective leadership”.

  4. Well said! Your posts always provoke a lot of thoughts. I think that that leadership is mostly made – leaders can indeed be developed. Yet, there is some “raw material,” some inborn characteristics, that predispose people to be and become leaders.

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