Seeking Connections, Finding Synergies

6/5/2013 12:00 AM ,

In the 20+ years I’ve been participating in college student leadership development efforts, I have worked with countless colleagues who were (and still are) looking to find the connections among the multitudes of leadership theories and models out there. The reason? No single model seems to work in meeting the needs of college students as they strive to develop their capabilities as leaders. Students on today’s campuses are as diverse as ever—young adult and returning adult students representing every ethnicity, different countries and socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations. As a campus-based professional focused on supporting students’ leadership development, the challenge is often as simple as this: “How can I, as a single individual, support each student as he or she discovers, experiences, and grows as a leader?” The answer, I have found, is in bringing together the best thinking and scholarship on leadership.

As a young professional, I was simply overwhelmed by the choices and challenges. My solution early on was to work with the "theory of the day."  Like many of my colleagues, I would discover a new model or book on leadership and run with it. I found this only worked for so long, however, because no single approach to leadership seemed to capture what was needed when working with college students. Leadership development on the college campus was then, and still is, multifaceted, dynamic, and much like a moving target.

So where did that leave me? Confused? Certainly. Frustrated? At times. And, oddly enough, inspired.

Student affairs professionals, especially leadership educators, know that college is a time for exploration and practice. 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. With this premise, the challenge for campus-based professionals is how to sift through all the various leadership development models to identify resources that will best support and challenge students to fully engage in learning experiences as they make the journey to become the best leaders they can be.

One solution-oriented approach that has worked for many brings together two dynamic models of leadership, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® and Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (EIL), to create powerful synergies that confront, head on, the reality that “one size does not fit all” when developing student leaders. The Five Practices—Model the Way, Inspire a Share Vision, Challenge the process, Enable Others to Act, Encourage the Heart—provide leadership educators an effective model to help students assess their leadership behaviors, make a plan for improvement, and commit to developing their leadership potential. EIL builds on the premise that there are three fundamental facets of consciousness—Consciousness of Self, Consciousness of Context, and Consciousness of Others—that contribute to the leadership dynamic and serve to complement and strengthen the effectiveness of The Five Practices. In fact, across the country, this unique combination of models has proven effective in providing students with anchors for their leadership development, helping them understand that leadership is not just about what they want or think, or even about how they work with others. 

Effective leadership requires an awareness of oneself, the people with whom one works, and the setting and situation in which leadership is possible or needed. And in that way, the Emotionally Intelligent Leadership model provides a frame for more fully understanding and putting into action The Five Practices. For example, to Inspire a Shared Vision students must know what matters to them; the self-exploration and self-awareness required to create and engage others in a shared vision is grounded in being conscious of oneself. Knowing what is important and how one’s answers and actions can affect others are all components of consciousness of self (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996). If students are not intentionally working to better understand their motives, values, and inner workings, they will not be effective in Inspiring a Shared Vision.

With the three facets of EIL serving as the frame for The Five Practices, the 21 capacities of EIL provide the tools and strategies for demonstrating The Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership. A few years ago, during a break-out session at The Leadership Challenge Forum, I had the opportunity to gather with a group of leadership development professionals to map out specific links, aligning many of the 21 capacities to The Five Practices and The Ten Commitments. For example, we discussed that to Inspire a Shared Vision, one needs to envision the future and enlist others in a common vision (the two commitments associated with this Practice). When we then considered the 21 capacities of EIL, the group quickly linked environmental awareness, optimism, and inspiration to the Commitment envision the future, while group savvy, initiative, developing relationships and teamwork mapped to enlist others in a common vision. 



As the conversation evolved among members of the group, more and more connections were made. In fact, there were too many to list until, at one point, a participant commented, “This is crazy! They all connect with each other. You can’t actually separate them.” And that is precisely the point. The synergy that emerges when EIL comes together with The Five Practices enriches and deepens leadership development work. For the participants at The Leadership Challenge Forum, and other leadership development professionals across the country, the realization has been that these two models are in sync and when brought together provide a truly comprehensive toolbox of strategies, ideas, and insights into developing and coaching others in their leadership development.


Following that early session with student leadership professionals at The Leadership Challenge Forum, students at the University of Maryland, College Park came together one summer for a series of workshops designed to enhance their self-awareness, develop their understanding of leadership, and practice their leadership skills. During one of those workshops they, too, were introduced to this blend of The Five Practices and EIL and quickly benefited from the synergy created when these two powerful models. Both emerging and experienced student leaders saw how consciousness of others and its related capacities aligned with the Practices of Enable Others to Act, Model the Way, and Encourage the Heart. Challenges that students faced in thinking through how to Encourage the Heart became less daunting when they applied the capacities of coaching, emotional self-perception, and empathy. Likewise, citizenship and capitalizing on difference seemed more relevant when they connected these capacities with the Commitments of fostering collaboration and strengthening others. While some found it challenging to remember all the various dimensions of the two models, students also realized that each model reinforced the other as you learned more about them. As one student commented, “You can dig deeper into The Five Practices by learning and demonstrating the EIL capacities, but this is going to take time.”

This is a key observation—finding the synergies between Emotional Intelligent Leadership and The Five Practices takes time, and hard work. But the end result provides leadership educators, campus-based professionals, and anyone interested in strengthening leadership with a powerful multiplier to help individuals leverage their leadership capacity. As students or leadership development professionals, the work is at hand, and the work is difficult. But following the commitment of planning small wins, we can all benefit and improve our effectiveness as leaders. 

Marcy Levy Shankman, Ph.D., is currently the Director of Leadership Cleveland and Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Cleveland Leadership Center. Her background includes professional positions with Indiana University, the Hillel Foundation, and the University of Iowa, and graduate and undergraduate teaching at John Carroll University, Baldwin-Wallace College, and Case Western Reserve University. She is co-author (with Scott J. Allen) of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students as well as a suite of companion resources under the title of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership for Students (all published by Jossey Bass). She can be reached at shankman@mlsconsulting.net.

Category: Success Stories

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