Vision & Leadership at UCF

Montag, 3. November 2014 | Autor/in: und 

las_tour25Im Rahmen eines Fellowship unterrichtete Till Wahnbaeck im vergangenen Sommersemester den Kurs „Vision & Leadership“ am University College Freiburg. Mit Fallbeispielen aus seiner langjährigen Berufserfahrung brachte er den Studierenden verschiedene Führungsstile näher.

During the summer term 2014 you taught a course entitled Vision & Leadership at UCF. How did this come about?
Till Wahnbaeck: “Nicholas Eschenbruch, UCF’s academic director, had offered that I design this course from scratch and try to combine my previous academic experience as a historian with my practical experience in various leadership positions in a business context. It was an appealing offer, and it turned out to be a very productive and fun course.”

What approach did you take?
TW: “The course was set up to be as experiential as possible. I didn’t want students to theoretically learn concepts of leadership but rather to experience first-hand what it means to be in a leadership position and give people tools for more effective leadership.”

What does leadership mean for you, then?
TW: “Leadership for me is closely related to the notion of change. If you don’t want to go anywhere new, you don’t need anyone to take you there. In fact, I define leadership as “taking responsibility for change”. Consequently, the course started with a “brief history of change” over the last 100,000 years. Its aim was to make students critically assess if change is good. And, if so, for whom. Only if you have a clear view of what you want to change, and why, and what the consequences of change are, can you be effective in bringing it about. In the course of the semester we assessed various schools of leadership with a view to real-life application, effectiveness and their ethical dimensions. The aim was not to provide cookie-cutter solutions but rather to let students discover various dimensions of leadership as they went along and to let them connect the dots themselves.”

You talk a lot about real-life application. How can that be translated into the classroom?
TW: “More important than the theoretical discussions, and much more effective in my view, were real-life case studies. The cases were drawn from my own experience and ranged from leading sales teams, to attempting to change a corporate culture, to volunteering in Africa. Students read up on the context and then got a chance to work out what they would have done in the given situation. I then shared what I had done and we discussed where I had gotten it right and where I had gone wrong. I think the approach worked quite well, because it made theory tangible and real.”

What other teaching elements besides lectures and case studies did you use?
TW: “One of the most effective ways to experience the leadership topic occurred when we conducted a little experiment early in the semester. I had asked students to assign presentation topics among themselves so that all given topics would be covered, and then email me the results. It turned out one topic hadn’t been assigned. I didn’t point this out, so when the day of the presentation came and I introduced the topic and asked who was presenting, there was an awkward silence at first. I didn’t say anything either and thereby relinquished my role as leader of the class in order to see what would happen. After some time, when people had discovered that no-one had prepared a presentation, one student spoke up and asked who had written the summary of the day’s pre-reading. Reluctantly, the two students who had done it came out of hiding and presented their material. Another student then raised a new point when one student stepped forth and offered to give a related presentation that he had on his laptop. But the class wanted to discuss the point just raised before. The student was stopped in his tracks and increasingly withdrew from engagement. He was a leader without followers. Only when another student later on asked him to give the presentation did he feel the legitimacy to speak up and present. We spent the remainder of the class analysing what had happened, who had taken responsibility to change the awkward situation, how they had finally managed to assemble a group of knowledge-holders to teach the class, and how leaders fail when they don’t have the support of their followers. I think the case – and the interactive design of the course in general – show how theory can be brought to life and be really experienced even in an academic setting. It was an experiment well worth repeating.”

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