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Why Is This Such A Hard Concept?

Fische1I challenged my leadership students with one question for their final paper:  how will they use their leadership style and the concepts covered in the course to change the world?  I have a few students who are seriously freaking out over this assignment.

Whether they realize it or not, each of us changes the world in some way.  Some for the better; others... well... not so much.

Should I have changed the assignment to 1) do a biography on your favorite leader; or 2) share your application of your favorite leadership theory; or 3) if you could be any kind of plant, what would you select and why?  OK, maybe that's not the best approach (namely since I just responded to a student's question about whether effective leaders can use sarcasm).

German photographer Till Erdmenger recently created an informed post about how a single photograph can change the world.  His summary could also be applied to leadership:

It´s not easy to determine what gives a photo the power to change the world, but often it seems that it´s related to showing the truth and opening up people´s minds – what do you think?

So... to my readers... I ask... do you feel that you have the power to change the world?  A simple yes or no would suffice, but as always, I welcome the dialogue.

Image is from Till Erdmenger's Fast Fish Series (2000)


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Tom Haskins

I've seen "seriously freaking out" when I've taught college too. Here's what might be going on:
--Getting good grades by acting powerlessly obedient is suddenly jeopardized by the expectation from you to act powerful and independent.
--Getting creative by playing with metaphors is suddenly threatened by the idea of creating a better world
--Getting prepared to enter the world is turned into changing the world upon entry.
--Thinking like a student of leadership is no longer as acceptable as thinking like a leader.
All these are big changes for the students with no transition process, initiation ritual or change model to comprehend the turnarounds.
I hope this sheds some light on the hysterics :-)


One always has the power to change the world. It is a matter of defining the dimension of your world, getting some perspective on time frames. But there is a lot one can do immediately and at any time.

I think this is a terrific assignment since it helps to convert the knowledge you have been imparting in class into something that is personal and usable. And I presume those are two of the points of your class.

Dean Fuhrman

I saw this quote from Anita Roddick that I thought applied to your question ... "If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never been in bed with a mosquito"

Timothy Johnson

Tom - what a brilliant perception. I'd never really thought about the students' concerns about grades (although it should have crossed my mind).

Dean - I always enjoy your inputs, and the Roddick quote just nails it. I'll have to use that in class some time.

Angela Maiers

It must have been the week for students to "seriously freak out". That should not stop us from pushing them to stretch and grow. This is an incredible assignment. If we do not get our students to start thinking about being difference makers, what are we doing in education in the first place-right?

I would love to hear about what they turned in. You are being a difference maker by your influence on your students. Great work!

Timothy Johnson

Hi Angela - I'm anxious to hear what they come up with as well. I think they will surprise me, and they WILL change the world.


Excellent assignment. Your talk of "freaking out" reminded me of a girl I went to grad school with. She was most certainly worried about grades first. And was uncomfortable with anything that didn't have a definite "correct" answer. She was also much younger than most of the students in the program.

I'm changing the world. Consciously. I've started by changing my OWN world - by opening myself up, by putting out positive energy, by not allowing naysayers and pessimists to infiltrate, by being annoyingly difficult to anger or offend, by following my gut...


Timothy Johnson

Hilary - thanks for joining the conversation. And I LOVE your prescription for changing your own world first... that's how we change the broader world. I purposely stay ambiguous about grades... I think it keeps it more real world for my students.

And I love your photography! Your pictures are great! As somebody who is just now dabbling in the world of photographic fun, I appreciate someone who really raises it to an art form. I'm learning how to "read" the photographer through the pictures they take.

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