Developing Leadership Skills

I attended a TEDx talk recently at SUNY Plattsburgh by Dr. Steve Trombulak, Dean of Sciences at Middlebury College entitled, Reclaiming the Soul of Higher Education: Experiential Education for Sustainability.  Dean Trombulak spoke about an experiential summer program that embeds leadership skills in its curriculum.  Some of the skills he highlighted included:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Persuasive communication
  4. Negotiation
  5. Crisis management
  6. Idea creation
  7. Networking
  8. Empathy
  9. Ethical decision making
  10. Failing forward

Dean Trombulak talked about teaching these skills (find the full list here) as students participate in various learning activities related to sustainability.  Leadership skills are important because he wants students to, “have the tools to do something with that information.”  We often talk about our students acquiring the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be successful in their fields.  How often do we think about leaderships skills under the category of skills?  How much more effective would our students be in their fields if we placed a stronger focus on the development of leadership skills?

I was at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) conference in Las Vegas last week and was amazed at how many times the leadership skills mentioned above were part of the conversation.  Dr. Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York System, talked about employees of P-12 schools and higher education collaborating in new ways to achieve our common goals.  This conversation took place in a session on Striving Together; the initiative in our region is called North County Thrive.  Chancellor Zimpher emphasized failing forward by learning from each other’s mistakes as we make progress.  Another session I attended was for deans where the focus was on leadership skills most used by deans.  These included:

  1. Be Vigilant
  2. Remain calm
  3. Value relationships and others’ achievements
  4. Be strategic
  5. Provide guidance an coaching
  6. Plan ahead
  7. Seek help and learn from others
  8. Solve problems creatively
  9. Follow through
  10. Set limits
  11. Trust in yourself
  12. Persist
  13. Be prepared to deal with the consequences of difficult decisions
  14. Don’t assume

In a survey sponsored by AACTE of 110 deans, leadership skills were rated revealing several of the highest rated skills to be in the area of pragmatics.  The four highest-rated leadership skills included: follow through, vigilance, calmness, and relationships (Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S., 2016).   Additional leadership skills discussed by deans attending the meeting included communication, cultural competence, creativity, and vision.

After the conference concluded, I spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking/climbing in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with my lifelong friend, who is a math professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas; this is the same friend I have mentioned in most of the other mountain climbing stories on this blog site.

Red Rocks 1

The relative peace and desolation of the desert was welcomed after the cacophony of Las Vegas.  One of the topics we spent the most time discussing while hiking was the importance of reframing what we do as professors in a classroom to address leadership skills.  There were times we stopped and sat on boulders to enter into deeper discussion.  I told him about the TEDx talk by Dean Trombulak that focused on students learning leadership skills along with the content of a course.  I also detailed the leadership skills addressed in the deans’ meeting.  We discussed the development of our own leadership skills and the importance of good mentors.  Our discussion revealed many opportunities we have each day as professors, mentors, and advisors to model and teach leadership skills.

You can teach leadership skills:

  • as you have students collaborate in group projects;
  • as you discuss and demonstrate the importance of relationships, particularly with regard to developing cultural competence;
  • as you display empathy by asking students how they are doing beyond the context of the classroom;
  • as you assist students to “dig deeper” and persist with their learning;
  • as you talk with students about failing forward (learning from mistakes) in order to do better; and
  • as you provide guidance for students by helping them gain insight into leadership development.

The examples could go on and on, but I will let you examine the leadership skills provided above to develop additional associations to your own work.  We are responsible for deep development of these skills in ourselves if we are expected to model them for and teach them to students.  Imagine what we and our students will accomplish if we do this!

I don’t enjoy gambling in casinos, but I felt like I hit the jackpot in Las Vegas when coalescing thoughts on the mountain about deeper development and teaching of leadership skills.  I am happy to share the wealth with you.  Which leadership skills are you going to work on and teach today?

Bonus Picture:

Red Rock Canyon is part of the Mojave Desert.  This area is 17 miles west of Las Vegas.

Red Rock 3

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Excellence in Teaching
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth
  • Helping Students Achieve Goals

Learn Lead Image (2015). Retrieved February 28, 2016 from: http://edmundrichtoh.com/mlm-personal-development/how-to-develop-your-mlm-leadership-skills/

Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S. (2016, February).  Deans academy: Teacher prep and the importance of the dean – Part 1. Presentation at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Las Vegas, NV.