Blended Learning for Leadership and Culture Building

09/27/2018 17:04


Cultural development has been much on my mind these days. I spent part of my summer in Chicago reviewing a project designed to help K-12 kids start thinking about leadership, behavior, and self-management (Wisdom Camp). When Interim Dean Ken Chapman circulated the recent email outlining the anxieties of incoming Chico State students, I printed all four pages to compare comments with data I'd collected from COB students, and with what I'd heard from children over the summer. I also reviewed notes from my long-ago graduate work with an Army unit stationed in Baghdad, where another student and I collected and responded to reflections of soldiers who used handwritten letters and thoughtfully composed emails to convey their deepest thoughts.

We hold a lot within ourselves. Anxieties felt at various life ages and stages have common elements, and a leader's work to establish a culture where people can give their best matters. A key finding in the Baghdad project was the extent to which "wisdom"  (defined as intellect seasoned with compassion, self-directed and otherwise) is evident within a broad collective of individuals, even warriors from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. This intelligence is precisely what's needed for self-discovery, and essential to recovery from trauma. Great leaders create cultures where individuals are strengthened for the battles they face, and that's the kind of leader (Captain Corwin) who, managing his unit from a whole-person perspective,  made my research possible. (BTW, I'm happy to share what he gave me in return for my "research that never felt like work," which hangs on my office wall.)

A 2014 white paper on leadership and culture-building relates to strengthening groups and organizations of all kinds. It posits data of which you may already be aware, a 10-20-70 formula for learning: 10% of learning comes from coursework, 20% from other people, and 70% from experiences and challenges. The data affirms what I've seen, and what we've all probably already figured out; educators set the tone for learning in myriad ways well beyond the subject we teach. 90% of the learning in life that we've absorbed has depended significantly upon interpersonal relationship as played out via our experiences, and the situations in which we've found ourselves. This accounts for our strengths, as well as our fears and limitations.

We as educators set the cultural tone of a group, facilitating self-knowledge, efficacy, engagement, competence, and excellence. (Examples of this within our own college follows). Student motivation factors in, but culture sets the stage for the interpersonal kick in the pants most of us need but don't know how to ask for. In this way, even unmotivated learners can learn when the lessons are not just a matter of technique, but the product of cultural characteristics. This is true even of friendships, as we see in our students. Some friends inspire us to be our best; others, not so much.

"Blended learning for leadership isn’t just about technology or mixing classroom with online experiences, " writes Ron Rabin, PhD, of the Center for Creative Leadership. "It’s not about social media or the latest trends that promise to transform learning forever. It’s about building, in a thoughtful, systematic way, a structure to enable and support how leaders learn best."  Given controversies about the efficacy of online learning, and its apparent inevitability in some markets and virtually all universities, it's probably a good idea to consider the cultural aspects with care.

Curriculum Culture by Design

An example of conscious culture-setting popped up at our Department of Management meeting. Suzanne Zivnuska updated us on the tremendous progress of the Professional Consulting Program. This group has a bona fide cultural tagline: Work Hard, Play Hard. Suzanne notes that the tagline acclimates students from the start on the way things are in today’s business settings.

Here are some organizational cultural taglines, some formal and some unofficial but often-repeated, representing a collection of work team leaders' favorite ways to set the top-down tone for what’s expected of everyone. Does your typical classroom culture reflect any of these?

Everyone grows here – Just do it – Tap into the ocean of abundance – Nothing happens until the ships are burned—Behavior shapes personality—Good timber doesn’t grow with ease— Better prolific than perfect—Be here now—You make or break your life before 8 a.m.—The more you invest the bigger the payoff—Do what’s right, let the consequences follow—Creativity banishes worry—100% is easier than 98% -- When the why is strong enough, you figure out the how--or, here’s one that prevailed for my first several years in the corporate world: If you had to feed your family based on today’s results, would they eat well?

How do you set the stage? What's your line?

Jim Downing: “Welcome to My House…”

im Downing’s work with students reflects the title of one of his two recently published book chapters prompting further research conducted by students in his entrepreneurship class, to wit: “Welcome to My House, do you Like the Neighborhood?  Authenticity Differentiation within Strategic Groups of Wineries.”  (Managing and Marketing of Wine Tourism Business: Theory, Practice and Cases. edited by M. Sigala and R. Robinson. Chapter 14. 2018. Palgrave McMillian).  Now, this works on many levels as a sort of course-cultural tagline— welcome to my world, let’s do research together, let’s see what we each have to bring to the table.

Ideas like these stretch far and wide, as shown by his students' engagement and other activities. Jim’s having an effect on cultural discussion. Did you catch his appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered discussing the storytelling research conducted in his class? His summer included an invitation to the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, CA (shown above). Besides the book chapters, Jim's published two expert editorials in the Wine Industry Advisor, both produced with the participation of students in his Family Business entrepreneurship class. You can review the articles here and here.

Note, I just learned about Jim’s work, so neatly fitting into this blog’s theme, during a discussion at our recent COB semester launch meeting. Which affirms my point – basically, this writing is not just something I make up. In so many ways it's already within the culture we have created, and the students respond accordingly.

More Progress

Congratulations to Colleen Robb, recently appointed Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship! Next month, I’ll write a bit about the FutureWorks symposium that Director Emeritus Peter Strauss and Colleen produced, and held just before the end of last semester. Attendees from assorted backgrounds passionately engaged one another surrounding topics that matter to anyone concerned about shaping the world ahead of us.

It was an honor to be part of it along with Bob Sprague and other campus faculty. The impression it left with us was gratitude for having participated in the creation of a valuable roadmap to the future.



Welcome Back, Kristin! (It Must Have Been Hard to Leave... :-/ )

Last blog, I interviewed Kristin Minetti about her experiences as a new, and now well-seasoned, College of Business lecturer. As foretold, this summer she traveled with family to Verona, Italy, where she taught for several weeks and later explored the marvelous region with her extended family. It looks like she also got a promotion, judging by the crown and the castle in her hand. Way to go, Kristin!

Has the travel-teaching bug bitten those of you who haven't yet taught overseas?

Connect with Jenn Gruber, Coordinator of the Study Abroad program to learn how you, too can have a marvelous adventure. Check this link, too -  maybe your name will be on it for the 2020 global excursions. Jenn also happens to be a great resource for you if you must miss a day of class. As her schedule permits, she’ll come in and engage your students in a discussion of the benefits of learning abroad, and help them understand the ways to make this particular dream come true. The payoff is real – and no doubt, unforgettable. Here's to courage, and to all our journeys into unfamilar territory.