Kick Off!

You know the feeling of awaiting start of the football game. Fans are jostling with anticipation, the seats are humming … the coin has been tossed, the players line up and then … kick off!!! The game begins.

Yesterday we kicked off our second semester at Vanderbilt. Amidst the anxiousness of Omicron and anticipation of what the new semester will bring, I welcomed in two undergraduate classes of Leadership Theory and Practice. Well that’s the official title. Informally, I call our class “The Leadership Lab.” I do this for a reason. We do lots of experimentation. We learn about leadership theories but more importantly, we practice leadership in class, discovering what works and what does not, and we continue exploring.

As my students came in yesterday, I had welcoming (read “loud”) rock music playing and a starting task ready for them. Turning down the music, I threw out the question:

“What is leadership?”

I find my students to be some of the best and brightest our world has to offer. This is why I feel privileged to teach leadership at Vanderbilt. They responded immediately to my question while mentally wrestling with the definition as they spoke. “It’s about influence, listening more than talking, motivating, leading by example,” were some of the responses. “I don’t really have a definition,” another said.
In our daily lives, we tend to toss around the word “leadership” quite casually. We talk about good leaders and the bad ones. We point to examples in the business world, attributing success or failure to “the leadership.” But, what is leadership?

This is the question we will be wrestling with this semester. Leadership varies by situation and context along with the skills and talents of the leader of course. What is your definition of leadership? Does it include influence, service to others, taking charge, or creating vision? Perhaps you can start making “your” list.

Throughout the semester as we explore different leadership theories and frameworks, my students will LEAD. Breaking up into smaller teams, students will lead topical discussions, case studies, and will interview guest speakers. And, as we get to the end of the semester, students will design and lead the last module of our course .

It is a highly participative experience for everyone – me included.

My hope is that these theories, frameworks, and experiences will become their “leadership tools.” I want them not only to recognize leaders and leadership skills, but also to know which tools to use and to use them well. Ultimately, as students depart my class, I want them to commit to life-long development of their leadership skills.

The semester has kicked off, let the work begin.