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In this video, Curtis LeBaron, BYU, trains educators in the fields of leadership and career development in the benefits of reflective writing with their students.
Consider the adage, “Leaders aren’t born—they’re made.” Whether in primary schools, university classrooms, or business settings, individuals who participate in experiential leadership learning opportunities and written reflection cultivate life and leadership skills for present and future workplaces. Like other genres of experiential learning, experiential leadership training moves beyond lectures and readings to leadership in practice during simulations, guided experiences, and written reflection where students obtain the experience they need to lead competently and effectively.
If the purpose of experiential leadership training is to produce leaders who are confident and who know how to lead in any situation, then the purpose of employing reflective writing in these scenarios is to solidify learning and articulate goals for future leadership (Grand Dynamics, n.d., para. 3). Reflective writing in experiential leadership training is a specific type of genre. In a field where a high premium is placed on communication skills, experiential leadership training typically includes practice on how to send and receive communication both orally and through written mediums (Grand Dynamics, n.d. p4).
Successful business and professional leaders recognize the importance of experiential learning in training and facilitating the development of their employees. One study indicates that successful firms were approximately three times more likely to have employed experiential learning for employees on the executive and lower levels (Ho, ATD, 2016, para. 5). Educators can anticipate and prepare students for such growth and success in their professional capacities by providing opportunities for experiential leadership learning and reflective writing in primary, secondary and university settings. For example, educators who give their students opportunities to experience and reflect on leadership activities allow their students to solidify the retention of those skills, leading to overall higher performance over time. Educators can also construct their experiential leadership learning activities and reflective writing to address any student weaknesses so that they are better prepared for the workplace (8 skills, 2019).
Experiential activities that simulate legitimate leadership problems have been shown in research to be exceptionally successful when it comes to producing better performance (Ho, ATD, 2016, para. 6). Students can use writing to reflect on these experiences, allowing them to contemplate how they can deliver leadership performance in the future.
Basics of Practice
Educators can “provide participants with lectures, resources, hands-on activities, discussion groups and . . . question-and-answer session[s]” (Grand Dynamics, n.d., para. 2). Just as firemen practice drills, doctors practice sutures, and actors practice their lines before their performance, executive teams or students can practice their leadership skills through activities and consider improvements through written reflection in order to better serve their present and future teams (Ho, ATD, 2016, para. 6). Prioritize reflective writing as your students approach “business problems, job rotation and shadowing programs, adventure learning, and virtual or live simulations” (Ho, ATD, 2016, para. 3). Following up those experiences with reflection optimizes what students take away from them and ultimately implement as professionals and leaders.
- Use written reflection: Solidify students’ leadership skills by having them use written reflection after they participate in activities that are outside their comfort zone.
- Conduct a project strategy run-through:
- Give the team a situation in which they must come up with a solution to a problem and a means to execute that solution.
- Have the participants act out the execution of their determined solution.
- Have participants reflect individually and as a group, writing on what went well and what could potentially be improved upon.
- Role play (Grand Dynamics, n.d., para. 5):
- Example situation: A manager and an angry employee have a discussion to work out the issue.
- During the activity: Have other group members watch and give feedback after, but remind them that it should be positive and constructive.
- Then: Have the role-playing pair redo the exercise, implementing the feedback from the viewers.
- After: Have participants write out reflections, recounting the positive and negative feedback received, changes made, lessons learned, future goals, etc.
- Perform a leadership activity (like setting up a campsite) (Grand Dynamics, n.d. para. 6):
- Example situation: Have two groups compete. For example, the first team to complete the assignment is the winner, so the teams would have to have a motive to go quickly and efficiently.
- During the activity: Participants have to use problem solving and cooperation, delegating, communicating skills, etc.
- After: Do a writing assignment afterward to reflect on what leadership skills were learned during the experience and how they can improve as leaders in the future.
Teaching Materials and Resources
- Template for creating a writing-based curriculum
- Lesson plan for developing interview narratives (STAR Stories)
- Information Sheet for a career development internship with a literary magazine
- Template for managing a writing workshop
- Template for creating a journal writing exercise for an experiential class or program—short form (for more info go to "Journals" in this website)
- Template for creating a journal writing exercise for an experiential class or program—long form
- “Reflective Writing in the Workplace”: a blog about improving office and management competencies through reflection
- Pinola, M. (13 Nov. 2012). Use the STAR technique to ace your interviews. LifeHacker. https://lifehacker.com/use-the-star-technique-to-ace-your-interviews-5960201
Experiential leadership training – grand dynamics international. (n.d.). Retrieved June 16, 2021, from
Ho, M. (2016, May 12). New research shows investing in experiential learning for leaders pays off. Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/insights/new-research-shows-investing-in-experiential-learning-for-leaders-pays-off
8 skills all leadership trainings should teach managers. (2019, July 19). Science of People. https://www.scienceofpeople.com/leadership-training/