Leaders in Profile: Inspiring a Shared Vision with The Five Practices and Social Change Models

6/10/2013 12:00 AM ,

Inspiring a Shared Vision with The Five Practices and Social Change Models

At the end of my freshman year at the University of North Dakota (UND), I was amped up about making my mark. I had just assisted the incumbent Student Body President in getting reelected to his second term and I was excited about our shared vision of a more student-led university. And when shortly after the election was over I was asked to take up the challenge of reforming a flailing leadership program called Emerging Leaders, I jumped at the chance.

Founded in 2004, Emerging Leaders was a year-long co-curricular experience designed to train student leaders to transition into student overnment positions.  Each year a new director would take charge and, based on his or her “leadership skills”, a new program would surface. Without a clear curriculum, over time the program had become about celebrating charismatic leaders, networking, and rehearsing traditional management tactics rather than helping these students become effective leaders. There was a growing sentiment in Student Government that Emerging Leaders had lost its way. And as a student of this program my freshman year, I tended to agree. Still, I saw the potential of this program to reach a large number of students. Plus, it already had funding secured for administration and programing. 

Following my appointment as program director and approval by UND’s Student Senate (the parent organization and $10,000-funder of Emerging Leaders) I set to work articulating a clear vision of what I wanted this organization to look like and who I wanted to join my team as facilitators. First and foremost I believed leadership was for everyone. I wanted to give students the opportunity to learn through experience and secretly wanted our students to become a group of social entrepreneurs. Finally, I felt it was important to expand the scope of our students’ contribution outside of Student Government—to educate community leaders. I hired a three-member team to help me build the curriculum and then facilitate the program in the fall. And after a “rally the troops” meeting right before summer break, we all went our separate ways to begin our work.

My own summer break took me to San Francisco for my first foray into internship and city life. It was there, during a chance dinner with Paul Foster, Vice President and Publisher at Jossey-Bass, that I was first introduced to The Student Leadership Challenge. I was blown away by how accessible it made leadership. I’d been operating on gut instinct that leadership was for everyone, but here were The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® that really affirmed my assumption with empirical examples. This was what I was trying to do for myself and my fellow UND students in book form! 

After I finished reading my own copy of The Student Leadership Challenge I ordered three additional copies and sent them out to each of my coordinators. I suggested that for the next month we discuss how each of us was living and interacting with The Five Practices. We used Google docs (now Google apps/drive) to post discussion topics and questions that challenged each other.

A product of this ideation process was our vision statement that served as the genesis for every action moving forward: Emerging Leaders existed “To develop leaders through individual, community, and world change.” 

Collectively we agreed that one of the biggest challenges to “teaching” leadership was that there was no clear vocabulary around leadership and personal growth. How would we, as facilitators and student peers, teach other students? For us, we found that The Five Practices framework almost intuitively created the types of conversations we wanted our students to have. And, as a result, we based our fall curriculum around personal growth and understanding how to communicate our values through The Five Practices. 

Many of our fall programming exercises challenged students to dig deep within themselves in order to put language to their strengths and weaknesses as leaders. Our programming coordinator was fantastic at creating safe environments for students to share. Part of her success was her ability to ask “why” questions about leadership (vs. simply asking “what”) and the program’s students ended the fall curriculum being able to articulate why they wanted to change the world and how their leadership style related through The Five Practices framework. 

Moving into the spring semester, students were tasked to create, execute, and evaluate their own social change project. And to do this more effectively we solicited the insights of Komives and Wagner’s Leadership for a Better World and the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. We introduced the model’s concepts into the dialogue and encouraged students to connect these concepts to what they learned in the fall semester. The Social Change Model served as a valuable framework for tying our vision statement to students’ learning—as individuals and within their cohorts—as they designed, executed, and evaluated their own projects.

By incorporating the Social Change Model into our curricula mix we were accomplishing what I call “completing the loop”— the process of tying curricula, desired learning outcomes, and vision into one cohesive loop where each respective element supplements each of the other elements.


The Student Leadership Challenge proved to be a great place to start our program. The simple language of each practice was accessible to students who were new to talking about their leadership experiences. For new coordinators it was great to have a model to educate our conversations and if we had questions about the model we could find examples in the book. As the director, I can’t begin to quantify the value that The Five Practices added to the legitimacy of our program. It was a game changer. In the evaluation process, being able to show that students met and exceeded learning outcomes and that the leadership model was proven scientifically, as best practice, was huge. The Social Change Model introduced stories about citizenship and controversy with civility that resonated with the projects our students were doing. Without Komives et al’s valuable insights it would have been much harder to articulate the difference between community service and social change. The Social Change Model was invaluable for creating “Ah-ha” moments between the language of The Five Practices and the execution of our student’s social change projects.

The story of the Emerging Leaders program is unfinished without me “completing the loop” on how well our students completed their own development loop. Over the course of our program, 12 community projects were designed and facilitated. Students raised hundreds of dollars for Breast Cancer research. They created safe alcohol-free community programming. They united a diverse ethnic community through a shared love of soccer. Two of the projects were adopted by other university organizations and, along with UND’s Emerging Leaders program, continue to this day. Most students went on to lead other university programs and many of them graduated with honors. 

Creating an effective leadership program isn’t about getting everything right, and if you haven’t already you will probably learn more about yourself in a year “teaching” leadership than most any other endeavor. Embrace your experience, share your vulnerabilities, and continue to Challenge the Process. 

Sam Eriksmoen, co-founder and former director of the Emerging Leaders at the University of North Dakota, has developed, reviewed, and facilitated leadership curricula for the last four years. Following graduation Sam relocated to San Francisco where he now serves as an independent contractor and aspires to improve the world through advancement in the arts, adventure, entrepreneurship, and social change. He can be reached at Sam@sameriksmoen.com and would be happy to share the tools and resources developed at UND with others who would like to take up the challenge of developing a similar program.

Category: Success Stories

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"Why wait to learn leadership in the workplace? Students can learn how to lead by using Kouzes and Posner's five proven leadership practices. [This] is the perfect guide for...[those] seeking to develop themselves for leadership."
– Howard T. Prince II
University of Texas, Austin

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Nyack College, NY

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"Beth and Gary are so personable that I was totally comfortable asking anything. For a program with such vigor, these two facilitators do an amazing job of creating a safe, fun, and functional learning environment."
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Saint Louis University

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– Melvin Chia
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"Consider the college campus as a leadership laboratory—a place where students have multiple opportunities to practice their leadership skills and explore and develop their leadership identity.
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– Marcy Levy Shankman
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"I am so passionate about leadership and making a difference and I truly, honestly, wholeheartedly believe in The Student Leadership Challenge model. It is complete, yet simple enough, for all to understand. SO very excited to share this model with others, both on-campus and in the community.
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– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

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"I feel that a program like this could really work in helping to eventually change our culture within our schools, homes, and businesses. Although I am not a supervisor, I plan to implement the model fully in our office and look forward to sharing it with coworkers. I love The Student Leadership Challenge model and am so excited!
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– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

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"The Student Leadership Challenge is one of the most robust teaching and learning opportunities we have as educators. The Five Practices are identifiable and learnable skills allowing an individual to improve by receiving feedback and observation and by setting goals.
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– Jason R. Pierce, director of education
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– Matt Baker, Vice President of Student Affairs
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– Victor K Wilson, vice president for student affairs
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"Student leadership challenges are quite similar to adult challenges, and yet they differ as wel­­l– in scale and in the power of peer perspective. Kouzes and Posner have constructed a wide and sturdy bridge across these worlds. My college students will find relevant lessons and great inspiration in the diverse and compelling stories that are retold. We’d have a lot less adult leadership problems if more teachers and students used this great book.
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– Dan Mulhern, Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Business
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"Kouzes and Posner provide a comprehensive, research-based, and values-driven resource that is packed with real-life examples. This book makes leadership highly accessible to college students and is sure to empower the next generation to tap into their potential as leaders and social change agents.
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"The Five Practices has provided a framework for students to reflect on their leadership experience and restructure their philosophy and theories relating to leadership as they challenge themselves through these five practices.
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– Amy Kuo, Somchanhmavong, associate director
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"As a Student Leadership Challenge Certified Facilitator I am excited about using these books to further aid me in developing curriculum and giving our students a tool to acknowledge and reflect on the concepts as they pertain to their own capacity to lead effectively."
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BOLD Leadership Program, Cornell University

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"In our public service leadership programs and courses we will be able to easily use the many relevant and engaging activities and reflection exercises provided in this workbook. It will enable our students to better engage with and benefit from The Student Leadership Challenge, and will also help foster their personal leadership development journeys."
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"A book of genuinely effective activities for enagaging students at all levels, turning the novice facilitator into a pro. It includes easy-to-use concepts that readily apply to life as a leader, and is a real difference maker that fosters success!"
– Randy D. Grimes, human resources director
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"A fantastic resource for leadership educators looking to further develop students’ understanding of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership in a tangible, hands-on way! It offers engaging activities that are sure to make an impact on your student leaders. This activity book is a great supplement to The Student Leadership Challenge, bringing the original concepts off the page and into the real world.
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– Kimberly Piatt, coordinator of leadership development
The College at Brockport.

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"An excellent one-stop resource for activities to engage student of different learning styles. Students will find the experiential nature of the activities easy to comprehend and most importantly be able to see the relevance and application of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership."
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"From what, to so what, and now what, this guide helps take educators on a journey of not only understanding The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership but also specifically on how to apply, practice, and teach the nuances of these exemplary leadership ways of being."
– Laura Osteen, professor of higher education, Florida State University
and director, Florida State’s Center for Leadership and Civic Education

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"The Facilitation and Activity Guide would have helped me not only to develop a better leadership program but to be a better leader myself. For those administering The Five Practices, this guide ‘Models the way’ and will be one of your best coaches."
– Sam Eriksmoen, former director, Emerging Leaders Program
University of North Dakota

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"Educators working at all levels will benefit from [The Facilitation and Activity Guide]. It is practical, applicable to diverse sectors, and works."
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