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New Honors Leadership Course

Become an Influential Leader

Everyone is a leader in some capacity. This idea is the guiding principle of the Honors Leadership Development Experience (LDE), and the basis of the new Foundations of Leadership course (HONRS 310) the Honors Program launched this spring. According to Dr. Tracy Maylett who taught the class, “Understanding ourselves first helps us better understand what we bring (and what we lack) in leading others.”

The Honors Program aims to develop student-scholars from across the university who will become broad thinkers, creative problem solvers, and influential leaders (Mission Statement), but for a program so focused on creating the leaders of the future, the lack of formal leadership training has concerned the Honors Executive team for some time. Prior to Fall 2020, the Experiential Learning component could be fulfilled through an internship, a study abroad, or numerous other avenues. While reports about these experiences were good, the experiences themselves were often insufficient to create truly “effective or impactful leaders.” Data from hundreds of alumni suggests that Honors students really do go on to become leaders in their professions, families, and communities, but before now, the program provided little or no training on what it means to be an effective or impactful leader.

Over the past several years, the Honors leadership team has worked with faculty, students and administrators to review and revise the experiential requirement for the program. Associate Director, Dr. Dennis Cutchins, noted the team wanted to ensure that students would receive academic credit for their experiences, ensure that they would lead teams with “diverse disciplinary backgrounds,” and learn how to change lives through their leadership. “We really want students to have a meaningful experience, not just check a box,” he said.

Enter the recently launched Leadership Development Experience, which the program implemented for students committed to Honors beginning Fall 2020. LDE replaces the former experiential learning requirement and consists of a two-class regime of theory and practical application. Students first complete HONRS 310: Foundations of Interdisciplinary Leadership, followed by HONRS 390R: Leadership Practicum. In the first course, students build their own leadership understanding, capabilities, and skills in preparation for the next step. Then in 390R, students engage in a substantive leadership experience through pre-approved interdisciplinary projects, programs, internships, or partnerships with the Honors Program. These projects provide opportunities for practical application of the principles, theories, and skills learned in the foundations course.

Dr. Maylett, CEO of DecisionWise in Springville, UT, and an instructor of Organizational Leadership Strategy in the Marriott School of Business, taught HONRS 310 for the first time during Spring 2021. The class is set up to explore leadership in three ways: individual, interpersonal, and organizational. Dr. Maylett explains how the class approaches these three aspects of leadership: “This course starts with leadership theory. We look at these theories through practical, real-world examples…. Then, students identify their own views on leadership and how these theories might apply to or disagree with their own leadership views, and how they might apply them in their own leadership.”

Students create a baseline from which to expand their skills. This is key, because the students are taught to apply the lessons they are taught instead of leaving them as abstract concepts. They receive feedback on their leadership from their peers, bosses, and teachers. Remarking on this assessment, Benji Nixon, a freshman studying Neuroscience who just completed the course, reported, “You will always have a vision of yourself and who you are, then you have those closest to you that see who you really are. This can be a pro as well as a con.” For the students, this assessment inspired them to engage more deeply in the class to increase their leading ability.

To engage in interpersonal leadership, students are encouraged to interact in interdisciplinary teams. This system helped junior Electrical Engineering student Cody Arvonen to understand that “being a good leader is not necessarily about your characteristics, it is more about what you do.” On their learning teams, students are expected to work out their own problems without relying on the instructor or TA to resolve conflict. To facilitate understanding in these groups, the course teaches students how to best serve others within the context of leadership, and provides examples of leaders interacting with their teams. On an organizational level, students review formal leadership theories such as servant and systems leadership. Students finish the course with a Personal Leadership Profile, a paper that spells out tangible goals for each student to become a better leader.

Dr. Maylett recognizes that our students are not (yet) presidents of vast organizations, but he stands by the idea that leadership training is for everyone. “This course focuses on how we choose to lead at all levels of our lives, even if we don't have a formal title or position,” he says. It doesn’t matter if these skills are applied in a church, family, or business setting; they are relevant anywhere.

Having a teacher who is, himself, an experienced CEO has its perks; students remarked that it was incredible hearing stories of how Dr. Maylett actually led a company using the skills they were learning. To his class, Dr. Maylett says, “I love what I do, and I hope it shows. I consider teaching a privilege. I believe leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility. I believe fun, challenging environments are also engaging environments, so don't be surprised if we have a little fun along the way!” Dr. Maylett shared favorite leadership example: “One of the advantages we have in the Honors Program at BYU is the ability we have to learn from the greatest of all leaders: our Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. It is a blessing to be able to talk about the way Jesus Christ taught and led and how this example might apply far beyond Church settings.”

If you are a student who committed to the Honors Program during or after Fall 2020, or if you are an Honors student just wanting to be a better leader, consider enrolling for this class in the fall. Eligible students have completed HONRS 120 and at least one Unexpected Connections course. Contact an Honors advisor for more information.