The college experience is about academic development as well as personal development. Of course, Haverford has plenty of resources to facilitate academic growth, but it also makes available many opportunities for personal development. Among our many extracurricular activities is the Rufus M. Jones Leadership Institute. The Institute has program requirements that are useful in becoming a well-rounded and informed leader; students can also complete different parts of the program as ways to hone their leadership skills. For the spring semester, I submitted my name to be enrolled in Leadership 101: Foundations, a not-for-credit class that meets six times once a week, after receiving an email advertising it. (As a side note, always check your college email account – opportunities can abound in the mail you receive.) Leadership 101: Foundations is designed to introduce key themes in leadership that can be applied to real-world situations from leading a club to running a meeting. We have had five of our six classes so far this semester, and we will have our final class on March 20 after we return from Spring Break.
The class is a great opportunity for personal development. Lilly Lavner (Coordinator of Student Activities and Leadership) and Chloe Tucker (International Programs Coordinator) lead the class. Fewer than ten students are in the class, and that small class size ensures that we can hear each other’s opinions and break into small discussion groups. (The class has also been a great way to meet new people and to get to know other people better.) On the first day of class, we were given The Intentional Leader by Kenneth A. Shaw and Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. The Intentional Leader is the text on which our class topics are founded. We used the online component of Strengths Based Leadership to take a diagnostic test to examine what strengths we had and how we could utilize those strengths to lead. We also used this diagnostic information to learn how to work effectively with people with different strengths. From these sessions, I have learned that introspection and self-assessment are major components of leadership.
Group activities feature prominently in the class. Of course, there are times when Lilly and Chloe provide information or new knowledge, but much of the time is dedicated to having discussions and participating in group tasks which are designed to put leadership skills into practice and demonstrate group dynamics. We truly participate in learning and developing the concepts featured in the class. The group activities allow for reflecting on what aspects of leadership worked well and which aspects could be improved. During our classes, we have set goals, learned how to give constructive criticism, and discussed our own strengths and weaknesses, ways of working with people with different strengths or personal styles, decision-making, meetings, diversity, and identity.
Maximizing the outcome of a meeting by establishing a purpose for the meeting, setting goals for the meeting, and using an effective meeting style was another a critical topic. It segued smoothly into a session about effective communication. For that session, we had a visiting instructor, Michael Webert, from the Office of Academic Resources who described proper communication techniques in addition to traits of effective leaders, values, and accountability. He also emphasized evaluating others and oneself and creating a reason for others to follow a leader.
I think the most important style that we discussed in Leadership 101: Foundations was facilitation. Rather than commanding others, a facilitator can create an environment in which ideas can be bandied about without fear of harsh criticism. A facilitator focuses on achieving discussion of pros, cons, and compromises. Facilitating meetings to allow ideas to flourish or for ideas to be born from general themes is a crucial element of leadership. Facilitation is perhaps an unconventional means of framing leadership, for facilitation is a hands-off approach. However, it allows for someone to keep the meeting on task and to ensure various opinions are heard from different participants.
So far, my experience with Leadership 101: Foundations has been extremely positive. I have gained insight into my own practices and reflected on ways to improve and refine them. I have gained the vocabulary to talk about leadership in a precise and meaningful way. I have learned what to look for in a group dynamic so that I can focus on giving agency to and including others. All of the knowledge I have gleaned from the class has been extremely valuable in making me more aware of proper leadership practices that I will employ to make group experiences more effective and beneficial to all of the group’s members.
Let’s hope for warm weather! Haver happy spring!