With less than a month left of classes, the 2016–17 Applied International Studies master’s candidates are busy finishing their capstone projects with guidance from one of the world’s most influential leadership researchers.
With dozens of publications under his belt and the University of Washington Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking (CLST) under his supervision, Bruce Avolio is recognized as one of the world’s top leadership scholars. The UW Foster School of Business professor was recently honored with placement on a list of the world’s most frequently cited scientific researchers. Since September 2016 MAAIS students have enjoyed his personalized seminars and leadership sessions. As students dig into their final capstone projects with Seattle clients including Starbucks and Booz Allen Hamilton, they’ve had multiple sessions with Avolio and other CLST coaches to refine their teamwork and leadership skills.
“This year we started with crewing,” Avolio says of the year-long MAAIS training program. “It was an opportunity for students to get out together and challenge themselves. It put them in a situation where they had to depend on each other. That was the beginning of getting people ready not only for the rigors of the program but for interacting with each other.”
Cohort interaction in learning programs is an important but often overlooked aspect of education, one that Avolio says should play a larger role in the creation of teams everywhere. “The cohort experience is a good part of the [MAAIS] program experience. A lot of times people come to a program and expect it to do things to them or with them, yet often students themselves are a good part of the program.” If students don’t actively participate in creating their own experience, they miss out on opportunities to learn and grow.
As the cohort coalesced throughout the fall, winter, and spring quarters, students were coached on leadership readiness. Avolio and other CLST coaches asked students to think hard about their personal leadership and team qualities, goals for themselves and the cohort, and the ways individual experiences could strengthen or weaken those aspirations. “Everyone can have their own trajectory,” Avolio says. “So how do we create this trajectory of development for each individual?”
Finally, as students moved into the heart of their program with their capstone experiences — internship-like projects with leaders in international business, security, and development — they began applying their readiness coaching to their projects. Application began with defining and structuring team processes and non-negotiables though a group charter. “Processes in teams can degrade teams more than individuals. If your equipment isn’t well lubricated, eventually a machine will seize up,” Avolio says. “Getting people to stop and take a look at commonalities and how they might come together is the challenge of every organization.”
After developing charters, students were guided through those potential “seizing moments” with regular check-ins with CLST coaches. They are now working hard on seeing their projects through to the final client presentations and reports.
The final lesson Avolio hopes students learn from the experience: “We’re elastic, and we can develop. People are always surprised by how much of it they can develop. Anyone can have leadership.”