As a practitioner of leadership development, I am increasingly concerned that deep experiential learning is reserved for a small minority, typically high-potential or senior leaders. Rather than hoard these practices for the few, why not ensure everyone is equipped for the ever more complex world in which we live?
Over recent years, concepts like Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and Learning Agility have come of age, yet the opportunity to experience rich, immersive learning that stretches us outside our comfort zone eludes many. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I participated in such an opportunity, T-Groups hosted by NTL. Since that pivotal experience, I routinely invest in my own development by participating in similar cohort experiences, all designed to increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence through the lens of human interaction, which is at risk of becoming a dying art.
How could experiential learning support leadership development earlier in life?
I played with this hypothesis over the last couple of years, thanks to the work of Dr. Peter Cohen of Wichita State University. I met Dr. Cohen when I learned to teach case-in-point, a methodology that creates heat experiences and awareness of adaptive leadership. As adjunct faculty on his ground-breaking approach, I’ve equipped college students with life and leadership skills as they transition to the workplace.
The results are powerful. A group of unrelated 20-something students comes together to learn new skills to express themselves and reach out to others for support, while smashing social barriers and increasing inclusion.
Students say, “This class changed my life. I became more open-minded, experimental, driven, and connected with myself and the world around me.” Or, “I feel fifty pounds lighter. I don’t need to carry so much weight on my shoulders. I recommend this class to every student I know. It was an inspiration.” Finally, we witness the link to cultivating a growth mindset: “This class transformed my entire thought process.”
This new generation recommends this class to all their peers, but our systems today don’t accommodate that. This type of skill-building increases social connection and counteracts depression, at a time when we face increased loneliness and isolation. The sense of belonging fostered by these sessions is something this generation (and arguably others) crave.
Why wait? Why not share experiential learning with our young people? Why not provide these foundational learning opportunities now?
What is the formula?
The course at Wichita State University is an optional pre-session elective and is aptly named Leadership and Self in Society. Students examine factors influencing the effectiveness of individuals leading change, including values, conflict and power. They also reflect on their own leadership development and work in teams to recommend strategies for change in a project they are working on in a community or organization setting. They learn to embrace adaptive challenges and create conditions to practice leadership in real time.
Learning outcomes include designing experiments, using yourself and your peers to continually increase knowledge about leadership. We emphasize cases that emerge in the room to surface a point of learning centered on four leadership competencies:
- Manage Self
- Diagnose the Situation
- Intervene Skillfully
- Energize Others
These competencies are elegant in their simplicity and general applicability. They are expanded upon in Your Leadership Edge, by the Kansas Leadership Center, which also offers certification for case-in-point, a heat raising intervention tool.
A limited number of schools feature this type of experiential learning engagement. One is Stanford, which offers a variation on NTL’s T-Group, called “Touchy-Feely”—one of the most popular classes on campus. For more on their offering see the guest article this month.
Not only universities and colleges are charged with offering this impactful learning. Corporations and non-profits alike could support the early-in-career hires’ transition into society, so we have all the leaders we can muster to tackle the increasing challenges we face in society and on the planet.
Anita is the founder and CEO of Sage Ways. Connect with Anita to learn more about experiential learning and how it can benefit your organization.