Learning to Lead

Active learning challenge

In preparing the fall semester of Leadership and Management skills for the Masters students at Business School Lausanne, I sensed that the in class learning needed a new dimension, past students had experienced painting together to build team skills in class and climbed Mount Everest in a virtual simulation. For a topic like Leadership, learning needed to move into reality and that takes place outside of the classroom. I decided to design an experiment that would challenge students to build active learning paths between leadership theory, and their reality while paying careful attention to their own behavior during the challenge.

The 3-day Forum on Social Innovation and Global Ethics, SIGEF, provided the perfect laboratory to carry out the experiment. It offered a rich diversity of round tables, panel discussions ranging from Impact Investment, Accelerating Sustainable Growth, Social Entrepreneurship, Technology and Media, Poverty reduction and Food security (see complete program here) as well as access to 30 Socially Innovative Projects hosted by NGOs, associations and social enterprises from Brazil, Morocco, France, Mexico, Togo, Switzerland and Cameroon.

The mid-term was not an exam, it was an assignment split into two parts – the first required the students review the Forum program, find a theme which interested them and choose a speaker or spokesperson whom they could interview during the event to learn more about the theme as well as the leadership path of the chosen individual.

Strategic planning – Always have a back up plan

Interview questions had to be reviewed, discussed and approved in class prior to the event. The first big surprise came when asked what the Plan B was, in case students preferred speaker didn’t show up. This question was greeted with blank stares – An initial wake-up call! As much as we like to plan how and when things are going to happen, and be optimistic about the future potential outcome, we always need a fall back plan, so we’re not left scrambling…This question provided a speedy lesson in Real life strategic planning, in practice.

One student had elaborated a strategy to mitigate this potential risk. By sharing it, the other students quickly understood they too needed to come up with a 2nd and 3rd interview candidate and the appropriate questions. As it turned out, two-thirds of the students were faced with a no-show of their first choice candidate and had to re-organize a new interview while dealing with feelings of surprise, anxiety and in some instances anger. Each succeeded in securing a second impromptu interview and during part 2 of the mid-term assignment shared their experience and the interview, with the class.

Inspired by action

Student learning was multi-dimensional and rich – they each met and spoke with passionate people running social impact projects from Mexico, New York, Switzerland the UK and the Netherlands. Students were surprised by the “easiness” of the encounters, curious conversations about climate change, dance music, violence against women and food security led left students feeling inspired. Each one of the people they interviewed has a burning desire to make change and the will to carry it through. They are ordinary people, no different from any of us. The one thing that sets them apart is that they have made a conscious choice to be an agent of change, to act on something they believe will make a difference.

Over the course of 10 weeks an idea that was initially greeted with skepticism proved to be a powerful learning experience, especially when the ride is bumpy, as this student so aptly put it: “Thank you again for your efforts to improving our leadership and management skills. Although at moments it was stressful, as you were pushing us out of our zone of comfort, now I can see the point and meaning of it. The case studies, the forum that we had to attend to, the interviews and the analysis of the Bcorp. company, were all endeavors that broadened my skills and perspective.”

Author: Nadene Canning, BSL Professor

Nadene Canning

 

 

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