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Mt. Union’s Leadership Course takes final exam with horses

UPublish story by Sue Thomas, President of LeadershipEAD, LLC

2013 Univ. of Mount Union "Leadership" Course

Associate Professor Sandra Ekstrand knows the value of experiential learning, and broke from the traditional pen & paper final exam for her Leadership course this year and took her class to a farm to put their knowledge into practice with a herd of horses.

The Leadership class of 16 students (mostly seniors, juniors with 2 sophomores) drove to Mantua Thursday morning for their 3 hours final which they found very difficult to study for. Sue Thomas, owner of LeadershipEAD, LLC said “the students will integrate their learning’s from the semester by applying it to integrating their new team members (the herd of 4 horses) into their team.”

The students 1st goal was to introduce themselves to the new team members (the herd), given instructions on how horses get to know another horses the students set off to learn a little about their new team members. Debriefing the activity, the students realized they didn’t really know anything about the horses and instead of introducing themselves in the manner the horses would understand, many petted them and tried to make friends with them quickly. Discussion followed on what & how a new team member would want to learn about the team and many insights were brought to light on how they could gain the confidence of the horses to want to join their team and collaborate with them on a project.

Acting more as individual units versus one team the students tried to gain the horses buy into becoming team members to no avail. Further discussion opened their problem solving skills to pull together as a team focusing on acquiring the collaboration of the herd. The shifts in their approach were evident in their approach to the horses, and a unified team started forming.

Professor Ekstrand, observed her students moving through lessons of leadership, followership, teambuilding, brainstorming and collaboration quickly as they formed a strategic plan to integrate the herd into their team with new energy. “Our department focuses on putting theory into practice and I felt that this experiential learning activity did just that! The students have been learning about different leadership theories and how to lead organizations. We have been discussing throughout the semester topics like: How will they get their followers to follow? How will they motivate their employees? Which leadership theory fits best with their individual personality? What’s the difference between managing and leading? In this course, the students do a variety of self-diagnostic exercises so; this leadership experience was an excellent fit!” said Ekstrand.

The students integrated the herd into their team & collaborated with them through moving them along the fence line in a controlled sustainable manner and pace. As in many teams, a rogue member wasn’t sure about participating and showed his concern as he turned and ran from the group… only to slowly rejoin them.

Debriefing each activity and continual discussions brought the dynamics of being with the horses into real life work, leadership & team applications. Thomas “horses don’t care what degree you have, the title you hold, or how much you make. They only care if they can trust you to lead them with a clear vision, while being honest and consistent through your actions, body language, and intentions. Horses want much the same from their leaders as people do.”

Student Stephanie Benson said “I learned a lot about team dynamics. It was a wonderful experience and really helped me apply what I have learned about leadership.” And classmate Deanna Glass stated “I left aware of many things that I didn't know about myself.”

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