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Leadership Lab: Management Competencies

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Excerpts from STI Student Work Study Leadership Essay

SANS Technology Institute (STI) Students, Editor - Stephen Northcutt
Version 1.2

This Community Program Requirement for the SANS Technology Institute (STI) Masters Program serves as an orientation for the students and ideally happens early in their time with the school. We ask them to write an essay about their experience and it is graded by faculty using a rubric built for the purpose. The essay provides a direct assessment into the student experience and whether the assignment is helping them understand what leadership is and make progress in their development as leaders. Because leadership is difficult to define, we ask them to read our school's leadership essay before they attend work study. Below are some of the excerpts from the student essay's. To protect student privacy we do not attribute these to the author. If the Middle States site visit team wishes, we can provide the full documents which includes the student's name.

Volunteerism and motivation alone cannot guarantee success. This is where the experience and leadership of the SANS staff makes all the difference. The methodology applied is almost exactly that described in 10 Rules for High-Performing Teams (Riggio, 2011). During the selection process, experienced work study participants are identified to mentor new volunteers and act as team leadership. At the outset of the event inter-dependencies are described, goals are set, constant feedback is encouraged, and open communication is established. Throughout execution of the event, roles are reinforced, goals are reiterated, communication is maintained, and focus is kept on the collective mission. This pattern continues until the event reaches its conclusion. These competencies, coupled with a tried and true project plan and dedicated volunteers ensure that success will be achieved.

The setup day demonstrated the strong leadership skill and expert knowledge of Katherine. Her skill in orchestrating the work of the facilitators, I feel, was based on her clear communication, and respect for individuals. In the morning meeting she clearly set the expectation of behavior, work output and reporting structure. The afternoon training provided additional handouts and discussion. Everyone was offered time to ask questions. Her answers and decisions were quick and unwavering which added to her clarity and credibility. (White). From the project management perspective, she clearly set and managed expectations. Katherine also possesses an effective and subtle charisma and genuine friendliness. She has the skill which President Eisenhower put this way, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

After studying about leadership styles and types of power as part of the GIAC GCPM certification I thought it might be interesting to see how these concepts affect team development as a core leadership competency (Northcutt, 2011). The conference director was very much in charge from day one and made it abundantly clear what the facilitator responsibilities and the reporting lines were. He was not questioned by anyone and was clearly using legitimate power successfully as described by Frisk (2011). The facilitators were split into three groups and each assigned a team leader. Each team leader started off with a certain level of expert power (Frisk, 2011) as they had all facilitated a number of times before. As the week progressed each team leader employed different leadership styles. Team A’s team leader was very much using an authoritarian style (Suttle, 2011) and rarely asked for input from his team members. This may sound negative but Team A completed their assigned tasks without fail so the style was effective in this case. Team B’s team leader adopted a different approach with a fair amount of micro managing as well as coaching being done. This seemed to work for those team members who were facilitating for the first time however created some tension with the non-first timers who did not feel they needed the additional guidance. My team leader, the leader of Team C, employed a situational (Suttle, 2011) leadership style. Team members would participate and share ideas when time permitted. On occasion however the team leader did simply make a decision without the team’s input but then often also explained the reasoning behind those decisions. In the end all teams delivered what was required of them however I believe some facilitators had a better experience than others due to the way in which they were managed. Some cracks were starting to show towards the end of the week once the teams entered the storming phase (Heldman, 2009) of development. If the teams were required to work together for longer, the various leadership styles would likely have needed adjusting to keep up the same level of performance as the teams moved through further development phases.

The other experience I gained a lot from was team and relationship building. I was fortunate to have another facilitator in the class with me, together we covered about 70 students. The two of us worked quite well together: assisting in gathering and calculating evaluations, attending to the instructor's needs and ensuring that the other got food and breaks. Working with the other facilitator was rather easy because we quickly bonded over enthusiasm about the course topics and about being a facilitator. The experience of the facilitators as a group was a bit different. Taylor and Moghaddam (1994) say that "when a group is formed, feelings of intolerance and hostility disappear within the group" (p. 23). I did witness the facilitators creating a close bond that had virtually no hostility but I did notice that there was some subtle dissatisfaction verbalized toward the staff. It was one more example of in-group/out-group where the facilitators were the in-group and the staff the out-group. It didn't appear to cause any problems but it was an interesting experience to witness.

A key characteristic of effective leadership is the ability to build relationships and to provide help and input when needed (Brian Uzzie , & Shannon Dunlop, 2005). I believe the STI work study program truly helps in building this skill and allowing for relationship building skills to be put to use. Getting to know the individuals behind the courses, the delivery systems, website, etc help students to integrate within the fabric of the IS community and find ways that they can help further improve the process. By networking and building relationships, diverse ideas can be more freely be exchanged. During my experience at the conference, I felt that I was able to provide and receive a free exchange of ideas and information on various issues with colleagues. We shared information on our backgrounds and common goals.

Probably the only thing worse than improper, missing or a poor sense of vision is the leader that is unable to clearly distinguish the important matters from those that may be most distracting. As Charles Hummel (1967) differentiates, “We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week.” All too often, we fail to plan well and allow those unexpected urgent items to consume all available energy.

[Editor's comment. The following excerpt is from an international student from another continent and culture. This serves as a reminder that we need to strive to always be sensitive to other cultures. ]
Did I have to assimilate their culture to display leadership? No I didn’t. How then did I do it and why was I afraid on the outset? Fons (2009) in his book on servant-leadership seems to provide the answer when he says opposing values are a hindrance to leadership in a multicultural environment. Servant-Leadership is based on the idea that beneath all cultural differences, there is a common basis, namely, being human (Fons, 2009). Perhaps unconsciously, I had exhibited servant leadership. Later, during the week I happened to share life experiences with different students that I met during the conference. I found myself opening up which created a reciprocal effect thereby increasing the level of trust I had with them. The whole experience was rewarding as it taught me to be proud of myself and that opportunities for leadership are unlimited.

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SANS Faculty Work Study Leadership Essay Retrieved from on January 6, 2012

Eisenhower, Dwight D., Retrieved from on 12/24/2011

Frisk, Jeff (2011). Management 525 Project Management and Effective Communications for Security Professionals and Managers, 525.4: Communication and Human Resources (pp1-130-1-133). The SANS Institute

Heldman, Kim (2009). PMP Exam Study Guide (pp 147). Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Northcutt, Stephen The Leadership Essay

Riggio, R. E. (2011, August 22). Psychology today. Retrieved from

Suttle, Rick (2011). Leadership Styles and Team Building. Retrieved 23 December, 2011 from the Chron Web site:

Taylor, D., & Moghaddam, F. (1994). Theories of intergroup relations: International social psychological perspectives (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Brian Uzzi, Shannon Dunlap (2005), 'How to Build Your Network', Harvard Business Review.

Hummel, Charles E. (1967). Tyranny of the Urgent. Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

Fons, T., & Ed, V. (2009). Servant Leadership Across Cultures. Infinite Ideas.