In higher education, terms like “leadership skills” and “global leader” are being used to shape international education programs. In graduate school, I saw first-hand how educators can enhance these qualities in their students, and I benefited from it greatly. You can implement similar, meaningful strategies for student development in your own curriculum.
The word “leader” is used a lot these days. We have learned that leaders pay attention to their surroundings, process new environments efficiently, and discover new ways of connecting with others. As practitioners, we then structure our learning objectives to enhance leadership skills in our students, to help them better listen, observe, interpret, analyze, evaluate, and relate to others.
The concept of a global leader goes one step further by adding to this an intercultural context, and the diversity of perspectives, values, and beliefs that comes from it.
Peter Adler describes a global leader as a multicultural person who has “psychologically and socially come to grips with a multiplicity of realities…[and developed] from the complex of social, political, economic, and education interactions of our time.”
It’s quite a mouthful, and quite the accomplishment! So how do we as service-learning practitioners understand this statement, in terms of how to apply it to our teaching?
Here are five key qualities of global leadership, along with strategies on how to enhance them in your students.
1) The ability for stress management
You accept challenges with a deep breath, a game plan, and maybe some light jazz playing in the background. You rise above instead of sinking below stress by being flexible, organized, and committed to the expression “mind over matter.”
Help your students understand the importance of time management, decompression, and contemplation. Especially during busy points in the semester, try to incorporate 5-10 minutes of downtime to ease in or out of the learning environment. You could play a song at the beginning of a lesson (preferably a calming, reflective one) so that everyone can settle and relax into the class space.
2) Effective communication skills
You can express yourself with confidence and clarity, both verbally and non-verbally. You are perceptive with social cues and respectful of others’ time and perspectives. This means you are a good speaker as well as a good listener.
Have your students practice public speaking as often as possible, with presentations, role-playing, or even short current events news briefings. If possible, have them take video of each other so they can see their communication strengths and weaknesses. As an extended idea, you could have them take hand-written notes on each others’ presentation as well, to then later discuss in small groups.
3) High levels of cognitive adaptability
You notice the smaller details or patterns of new environments and can adjust your worldview to include new knowledge and perspectives. You process change quickly.
Expose your students to new ideas for a wider breadth of learning. Have them research a topic and teach it to the class in 5-10 minute segments. You want them to feel hungry to learn and hungry to grow, so give them at least partial control over the content (even if you provide them with options to keep it relatively controlled). This may be best to do as an extra credit option.
4) The capacity for behavioral flexibility
You can both adapt and also act on new knowledge with ease, all the while maintaining your social composure. You can read social cues and understand how to react in sometimes ambiguous circumstances.
This one is for outside the classroom, as a healthy dose of some self-directed doing. Encourage your students to do something different: attend professional development workshops, join a club sports team, take yoga classes, sign up for a poetry reading, find various networking events, etc. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it isn’t something they feel they can “naturally” do. The goal is to break out of old habits and create new learning situations for them to act in.
5) A tendency to integrate creativity into problem-solving
You think outside the box. You approach old problems with new ideas by stretching beyond what “is” into what “could be,” which is the arena for facilitating change. You have a vision, and inspire others to join in.
Combine concepts and ideas that may not normally mesh together. Think about your course content: what can enhance it to make learning more interesting? How can you create a new method of addressing an old issue? How can creative energy be put into learning objectives to revitalize some of those oft-discussed topics? Is painting a possibility? Music? Interpretive dance? A local event or outdoor session? What kinds of learning styles do your students possess? Ask the class what they think so they can take an active part in the learning and problem-solving process.
Working with students to polish these global leadership skills will provide all parties involved with a wider perspective for teaching and learning.
As educators, we must be open to new learning and find ways of practicing these leadership principles – for both our students and ourselves.
Want to read more? Please see: “The Interculturally Competent Global Leader” by Margaret D. Pusch
Quote taken from: Adler, P. (1998). Beyond cultural identity: Reflections on multiculturalism. In M. J. Bennett (Ed.), Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Selected readings (pp. 225–245). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.