Drawing leadership and seeing learning

At the beginning of the semester, they give me sass.

I hear the the sighs, see the eye rolls, catch the not-quite-under-breath whispers “Umm, we’re not in kindergarten, anymore…”

At the beginning of the semester, they see markers and paper as beneath them. By this point, with just a few weeks left together, they can see value. Or at least, they’re too tired to complain.

Today, I asked my upper division organizational communication students to draw their ideal leaders.

The prompt is purposefully vague. I give them five or six minutes, and let them jockey for the right crayola combinations. Then we stand in a circle, or thanks to our cramped classroom, a smooshed oblong, and I sort them.


I arrange them into rough groupings–those who drew individual leaders, those who embedded the leader in a context with followers, and those drew something abstract. Standing with their drawings facing outwards, so everyone can see, each student shares a description of their ideal leader, and we talk through ideas.

I ask about how their drawings connect to theories of leadership such as the traits approach which emphasizes the apparently inherent characteristics of individuals, or the transformational approach, which illuminates how leaders should interact with, and inspire followers. I explain how drawings enable us to see each other’s thinking. The images, often metaphorical, helping demonstrate how each of us views leadership or makes sense* of the same theory differently.

And then we ponder questions like: Where does leadership come from? What does leadership look like? Where does leadership exist? How do we do leadership in every day life, apart from formal roles?

These questions were especially pertinent as we discussed the University of Missouri president stepping down today amid protests regarding racism on the Mizzou campus. We talked about formal leaders being held accountable for organizational failures, but how lots of leadership must have been absent across many levels of the organizational for such a situation to occur.

I was proud to hear my students connect leadership with so many of the concepts we’ve learned this semester–conflict, organizational culture, identity, gender, employee participation–through their artwork. So fun!


* My co-author and I wrote a book chapter about this process of teaching, titled “Markers, Metaphors and Meaning: A visual and creative approach to data analysis,” which will appear in the Handbook of Innovative Qualitative Research soon. Will share when I can!

Other teaching things:
Teaching genre analysis with cheeseburgers
An introvert in the classroom
That’s Professor Wrecking Ball to you
Communicating with your college professor: 13 dos and don’ts
Loves and hates of teaching
First day of school rituals

NaBloPoMo posts:
The best laid plans
I just realized how much I miss Google Reader
Christmas tree diet report
A grateful heart: Coffee-n-walks
Slow clap for Canada (and gender equity)
Flashback Friday: Swimming with dolphins
6 things I’m going to do before 2016, dammit

NaBloPoMo November 2015 Badge

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