November 22, 2011

Grateful for Tomorrow's Leaders

Every night before I go to bed I think about the day and reflect on the "roses" - meaningful interactions with friends, fellow yogis, co-workers, or even strangers. This practice puts a beautiful ending on each day and helps me sleep better. You may notice that in my list of roses, I did not include students. This is because when I leave the classroom I deliberately close the door on thinking about my 100 students. 

However, the first thought I had this morning when I awoke was about the work my students did in yesterday's Executive Leadership class. Their assignment was to create six criteria by which they would determine if someone is a Level 5 leader, defined by Jim Collins, the author of Good to Greatas person "who operates first and foremost with genuine humility." The students were assigned to then use their criteria to evaluate a leader of their choice to determine if in fact this person were a Level 5 leader. When I explained the in-class assignment there were long sighs and rolling of eyes from half the class. The other half of the students moved quickly into groups and immediately started sharing ideas about leaders they wanted to evaluate and the criteria they would use to create their evaluation system. 

As I listened to the working groups and watched how the teams interacted I noticed that the enthusiastic teams were deep in conversation and studiously researching on the Internet. I heard "yes!" and "aha!" as they shared ideas and drew conclusions. At one point a student in a group at the far end of the room said, "should they demonstrate compassion and empathy?" and I sang across the room, "Excellent!"

At the end of class the groups presented their conclusions and I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the work. The students had thoughtfully created evaluation criteria. Then they had either imagined that they were the leader answering their questionnaire or they found quotes by and about the person that allowed the team to rate his or her leadership qualities. 

Some of the teams went further, demonstrating thought leadership and professionalism that I rarely see in people twice their age. I am grateful that these students went beyond the obvious, challenging their assumptions about what makes someone a great leader. It warms my heart to know that in a few years these students will be out in the world making a difference. 

In the November 21, 2011 edition of  The New York Times, the article "A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day" by John Tierney discusses various research studies that indicate gratefulness can improve your spirits and your health. Yesterday's teaching experience has inspired me to add my students to the list of roses on which I will reflect before sleeping each night. My definition of roses is now expanding to gratitude - a reflection on moments from the day for which I am grateful.