OLPD 1301W: Personal Leadership in the University
Instructors: Christen Christopherson and Amanda Larson
It’s safe to say that you know all of your professors by name (or at least we hope you do!), but what about your peers? Can you match their faces with names? The students in OLPD 1301W can because they are constantly interacting and communicating effectively with their fellow classmates.
What else can these students do? They can design their own classroom attendance policy. The instructors of this course asked the enrolled students to draft up an attendance policy that everyone in the class could agree upon, and then they made a deal with their students. The arrangement was that if the combined total of student absences accumulated to 10 or less over the course of the semester, the class did not have to take a final exam. Typically speaking, when a student misses a class (for whatever reason), it is on them. It affects them and only them. But, in OLPD 1301W, an individual’s absence affects the group as a whole. Thus, not only does this attendance agreement policy give students an incentive to come to class, but it also teaches students how to be accountable for their actions and it forces them to collaborate with their peers and work towards a common goal.
Furthermore, OLPD 1301W teaches students that with diversity comes both beauty and strength. While observing this class, the students took part in a participation activity where 4 students were designated as “leaders”. These 4 students had 2 minutes to strategize and 7 minutes to complete a task. At first, I thought the task itself was what was important. However, looking back on things, I realize that the takeaways from this activity are what matter most. While debriefing what had happened, the class learned that 3 out of the 4 chosen leaders have a very competitive nature. Their top strength from the StrengthsFinder test was “competition”. As a result of this, a point system had been implemented to motivate them to succeed. The instructors explained that competitive individuals are driven by rewards, so each task on their sheets was accompanied by a specified point value. Despite the fact that each of the four leaders were handed different tasks, the point values were all very similar. Additionally, the individual tasks were all worth less than their shared group task, and each of the competitive leaders focused their efforts primarily on their individual assignments.
Despite the participants’ competitive nature, they still didn’t have a lot of success in terms of reaching their goals. The three competitive ones weren’t able to meet their individual goals, the team goal was not met, and the group wasn’t strategic about racking up points. In fact, the only leader who ended up meeting her individual goal was the one who wasn’t very competitive- oh the irony! Overall, this group of leaders was quick to jump the gun on the execution phase and didn’t take full advantage of the planning process. I, along with the rest of the class, thought this was interesting. The class then discussed how this experiment might have played out differently if other students, who possessed different strengths, were selected as the designated “leaders”. If people who honed a variety of different skills were paired together, chances are that the team would have been more successful. After both an engaging and compelling classroom discussion, the students came to an important realization. They realized that there’s beauty in diversity and it’s good that everyone occupies different skill sets. The key takeaway here was that a well-rounded team performs well.
On that same note, the class was asked to break up into groups based upon their talent domains (as determined from the StrengthsFinder test). The domains were as follows: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. They were then asked to answer a list of questions including: Does this accurately define your main source of strength? How does this show up in your life? And, how might being in this domain affect how you “show up” as a leader? The group discussed their thoughts in regards to these questions and then Professor Amanda Larson simply said it best when she stated, “The goal is not for one individual to possess all of these strengths, that’s what the group is for. Learn your personal strengths and then know where to “show up” when working with others.”
After the students finished talking about their personal strengths, Professor Christen Christopherson shared her leadership story with her students. I found this to be very moving. Not only did she talk about her strengths, but she also focused on her weaknesses, failures, and fears. This Professor was open and honest with those in the class, and she was exceedingly self-aware. She didn’t paint herself as being a perfect leader; she painted herself as being a work in progress. She made mention of her faults, which was something her students could relate to. What she said was real and her story was inspiring.
All in all, this discussion section taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, and that you don’t need to be perfect to inspire others. Although everyone may have their weaknesses, not everyone lets their weaknesses define them. The curriculum for this course is unique and the atmosphere in this classroom is one of a kind. I think this class would be beneficial to anyone who took it, and therefore, I would recommend it to all of you.
Gophers, keep this class on your radar when registering for spring semester!
Photo Cred.: Leadership