Experiential Leadership Development

Reo Watanabe.

A blog post from SOLES PhD in Leadership Studies, Ambassador, Reo Watanabe.

SOLES is unique for its focus on experiential learning. John Dewey emphasized that human beings, especially adults, learn best from their own experiences, and the cycle of action and reflection is the heart of experiential learning. I find this statement extremely applicable to leadership studies. One of the strengths of SOLES is in its abundant offerings of experiential learning opportunities.

There are numerous teaching opportunities on campus. I so far taught two leadership courses to college students and did a teaching assistantship in a graduate course. I especially appreciate the unique ecosystem to train leadership educators at SOLES. For example, I co-instructed one introductory leadership course for college students with an undergraduate instructor. She was then a sophomore and around the same age as the students in the class. Initially, I was somewhat skeptical about how to make a meaningful teaching team with her for the class, but it turned out that she demonstrated model leadership and had a lot to offer to the class and to me! In another course, I coached college students who taught the introductory leadership course as a co- instructor. I observed their pressure as an instructor and their struggle working with their co- instructor who was much senior to them. Regardless of the challenges, they worked hard and resiliently developed their leadership as an instructor. I was glad to see their dramatic growth. I learned a lot about leadership more by teaching than by studying.

The Conscious Leadership Academy is a pivot of experiential learning at SOLES and offers a wide range of experiential leadership development programs. One of its initiatives is the Group Relations Conference, which is held on campus twice a year. Participants will experience group dynamics in a real setting, which is a rare opportunity in the US at the university level. This January, I participated in a weekend workshop titled “Small Study Group Training in the Group Relations Tradition” to train myself as a consultant for the Group Relations Conference. I had opportunities to consult a small study group and received direct feedback from seasoned consultants in the field. These trainings had an immense impact on how I learn with others.

I believe experiential leadership development can only be achieved through hands-on training. As such, I am glad to be here at SOLES as a leadership scholar.

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