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Before you lead others, you’ve got to know how to lead yourself
Oxford students train with Goizueta MBA students.

Oxford students train with Goizueta MBA students.

Oxford students train with Goizueta MBA students in unique experiential learning opportunity.

When she signed up for Dr. Henry Bayerle’s “Leadership in Ancient Greece and Rome” Discovery Seminar course, first-year student Eleonora Sheppard did not know that she’d end up at U.S. Army Fort Benning scaling metal poles and crossing bodies of water over just a couple wooden boards. But after completing the Leader’s Reaction Course, she has a new view on what it means to be a leader and how it impacts her day-to-day life at Oxford.

Sheppard, a neuroscience and behavioral biology major from California, signed up for the course to develop her leadership skills. “All my life I’ve been labeled as a ‘quiet leader,’ and I’ve never known what that meant,” she said. “I think this experience really turned my perspective on it around because I always saw myself as too shy, too quiet, or too nice to be a leader. But it showed me that sometimes being quiet and having that ability to listen to other people and communicate isn’t always a weakness, but a strength.”

The Leader’s Reaction Course was brought to Emory by Ken Keen nearly 10 years ago and is now part of the onboarding process of the college’s MBA programs. Keen, Lieutenant General (Ret.), is associate dean for Leadership of the Goizueta Business School.

Participants are placed in team-based leadership scenarios like those encountered by candidates for the U.S. Army. As part of the course, they solve problems with guidance and feedback from leadership coaches. Formed into small teams, participants work together to overcome challenges, surmount physical barriers, establish plans of action, and execute their plans to solve problems. After each event, participants go through an after-action review and discuss how they can improve.

Dr. Henry Bayerle with Oxford student leaders.

Dr. Henry Bayerle with Oxford student leaders.

“What I tell students is: ‘Before you lead others, you’ve got to know how to lead yourself,’” Keen said. “Leading yourself means knowing yourself and your strengths and weaknesses.… Whether you are an older MBA student or a young student, the Leader’s Reaction Course is going to enhance your self-awareness.”

About five years ago, Bayerle learned of the Leader’s Reaction Course and attended it as an observer. When building out his Discovery Seminar, he wanted to provide this unique experiential learning opportunity to his students.

“It’s not hard to talk about leadership, but if you haven’t had the experience of leading a team through a challenge, it’s just never the same,” he said. “There are some aspects of the Leader’s Reaction Course that distinguish it from most other opportunities available to Oxford students. In leadership positions in the classroom and in campus organizations, students don’t often face challenges under this kind of time pressure. In academic life—certainly among professors, but even among students—it is not all that common that there is an incentive to get every member of the team across the finish line.”

Not only does the course provide students with hands-on leadership challenges, but it also provides them an opportunity to do something they may not be used to: fail.

“It’s important for our students to have the opportunity to fail,” Bayerle said. “These obstacles are very hard, and I don’t mean just the physical aspect, which is usually not the hardest part. They’re like puzzles that have to be solved; leaders need to formulate a plan and test it by coordinating a team and implementing it. I would say the majority of the time the teams fail before succeeding.

“These are first-year students; they’ve only been in college for three weeks. Our students were among the best in their high schools. They’re used to success. They like success. I’m happy that they like success, but sometimes I’m concerned that they fear failure a little too much. The opportunity to fail, to learn from failure, and to regroup is an especially valuable aspect of the Leader’s Reaction Course.”

Together with her team, Sheppard learned more about her leadership style and now sees herself referencing this experience as she moves through her collegiate and professional careers.

“If you’re given the opportunity to take this course, 100 percent do it. It was an amazing experience,” she said. “I think it is a life lesson that everyone needs, because you never know what you’ll encounter in your work life, personal life, or school life.”

Bayerle is grateful for the connection he’s made with Keen and the continued collaboration that has allowed him to offer this course to his Discovery Seminar students.

“This was the second group of Oxford students to go through the training course, and we sincerely hope it will not be the last,” he said.

Click here to learn more about Oxford College Discovery Seminars.

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