I first learned about massive open online courses (MOOCs) shortly after the launch of Coursera in the summer of 2012, and have been playing around in the MOOC world ever since. Searching through the lists of offered courses soon became a hobby for me as I loved seeing the incredible diversity. I also loved seeing courses that sounded a bit ridiculous, a little too buzz-wordy. That was what drew me to Dr. Richard Boyatzis’ Inspired Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence course. As I was sitting back and reflecting on what the title of the course even meant, I remember smiling to myself at the stock photo of young business professionals with arms outstretched in triumph that is at the top of the course’s sign-up page. I tried to imagine myself enacting a similar photo after working through the course except I am the kind of guy who no matter what looks more like a hippy than a young professional. And yet, as I read through the details of the course I was intrigued by the topics that were to be covered.
Intro to Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence with Richard Boyatzis
So I signed up. Mostly because I was intrigued by the buzz-wordy title, but also because I have a fascination with the concept of leadership. What does being a leader even mean? How does one become a leader? What responsibility comes with leadership? And what makes for an effective leader? These questions and many more have been swirling around in my brain for years, and even as I wasn’t exactly sure what the course was going to be about I could jump to enough conclusions about it and think, “Inspiration is good, emotional intelligence is good, leadership is good. I can get down with these things.”
At the very least I thought that I would walk away with some new theories of leadership. I’d likely learn more concretely about what emotional intelligence means. Maybe I would walk away understanding some of the academic jargon around the study of leadership. And who knows, I might even be able to explain what the title of the course meant when I got done. What I didn’t expect was the degree to which this course would shape my own views on leadership.
GETTING INSPIRED WITH DR. RICHARD BOYATZIS
I was a little late to this course, starting it in February 2015, which was the sixth time the course had been offered. The MOOC is built from graduate courses that Dr. Richard Boyatzis teaches at Case Western Reserve University as part of the Weatherhead School of Management where he has been for nearly thirty years. This accounts for less than half of Boyatzis’ diverse experience though.
He received his undergraduate degree from MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics which seems miles away from leadership and psychology because it is. But he looped back around in 1973 with his MA and PhD which he received from Harvard University in social psychology. From 1976-87 he served as the President and CEO of McBer & Co., a management consulting firm which is now part the Hay Group. It was only after all of this, in 1987, when Boyatzis jumped back into the academic realm. Since then he has been very active, co-authoring two best-sellers: Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee as well as Resonant Leadership again with Annie McKee. This doesn’t include the near two hundred other articles, book chapters, and papers he has published over the years in the realms of leadership, human behavior, and organizational psychology.
Taking the course, it becomes quickly apparent that you aren’t learning from someone who has learned about these concepts himself, you are learning from someone who has shaped the dominant academic narrative around these topics.
Boyatzis brings all of his experience together with years of research to support the information presented in the course. Taking the course, it becomes quickly apparent that you aren’t learning from someone who has learned about these concepts himself, you are learning from someone who has shaped the dominant academic narrative around these topics.
And if you are still hung up on the jargon and buzz-words of the title, here is some helpful information from the man himself: “The ‘jargon’ is a way to learn a new language. It should help people learn to think about emotions and relationships in a new way. A new language makes it easier for that to stick. I have never had a proclivity to using buzz-words, but do carefully choose when to use a technical word and try to bring it into the mainstream of vocabulary.”
THE COURSE ITSELF
The course is designed to be eight weeks long with nine distinct modules which build off of each other. Here are the nine modules:
Resonant Leadership and the neuroscience behind it.
Renewal as an antidote to chronic stress.
Emotional Intelligence and its link to leadership.
Inspiring and motivating sustained development, growth, and learning.
Coaching with compassion to inspire sustained learning and development.
Peer coaching: with a little help from my friends.
Inspiring change through hope and vision.
The multi-level nature of sustained, desired change.
The real self and learning agenda.
You may notice that there are a good amount of academic jargon phrases (resonant leadership, emotional intelligence, coaching with compassion, the real self), but as jargony as the modules and the title are, Boyatzis moves through each concept with grace and highlights exactly what a student needs to know in order to succeed in the class. Each module has up to four videos associated with it and a list of readings and other videos that are meant as supplements to the lectures. The estimated / recommended time required for this course is three to four hours a week, which may even be an overestimation depending on how quickly you move through the material.
I am amazed at how many things Boyatzis weaves into the course and the clarity with which it is all integrated.
The course is hard to nail down to one overall topic, but that doesn’t make it hard to follow. In fact, I am amazed at how many things Boyatzis weaves into the course and the clarity with which it is all integrated. Starting with emotional intelligence and theories of leadership, the course turns to neuroscience and the benefits of hope, compassion, mindfulness, and playfulness for relieving stress. It dives into some of the technical components of identifying social, emotional, and cognitive intelligence competencies then comes back around to developing your personal vision and goals in life. Then Boyatzis looks at how all of these things influence not just individuals, but organizations as well. Finally, it wraps up with a highly refined theory of change called Intentional Change Theory which Boyatzis uses in order to frame a dialogue about how we as individuals can grow and change. All of this information is presented in a way that allows for any student to come into the course and take something away.
I figured the best way to understand the overall message of the course was to ask Dr. Boyatzis himself. He reinforced this message, “At the heart of it, as I say in intro to the course, the course is about relationships and emotions from many perspectives and for many benefits to individuals, dyads, teams, organizations, and communities. I research and publish in many fields which is why there are so many different sets of new words and labels.”
One of the things that I really enjoyed about the course is that Boyatzis often throws in activities as part of the lecture
One of the things that I really enjoyed about the course is that Boyatzis often throws in activities as part of the lecture. Often they are reflection activities that attempt to remind the learner that these concepts are only important insomuch as they relate to our own lives. So as Boyatzis is going over the idea of resonant leadership, which is what he considers to be effective leadership, he will ask the student to take a moment and reflect on a good boss they have had and a bad boss. What did they say or do? How did it make you and others feel? A pretty simple activity, but one that really deepens the learning as you engage with the theory behind it all.
These reflective activities that are thrown into the lectures are crucial for my learning, they were part of the reason why I took so much away from the course. The other part of why I took so much away came from the Personal Learning Assignments (PLAs) which are part of your grade for the course. There are five throughout the course and also three Action Learning Assignments (ALAs) which are optional and will earn you a “With Distinction” honor on your Certificate. The PLAs and ALAs are where application of concept occurs. These assignments are focused around deep reflection and introspection as a way to understand what kinds of leadership we have experienced in life, what competencies we have or want, who the people are in your life who inspire you and why, and ultimately who we are and what do we want to accomplish in our lives. For some learners out there, the level of reflection that Boyatzis asks for may be a bit uncomfortable, but I cannot imagine the course without this component. Again, this is the part where the theory and all of the academic jargon is placed into context, your context. It answers the question of what does all of this mean for me and in a way which really helps develop whoever engages with it in an authentic way.
To give a more in depth example of these assignments, one of the ALAs was to ask five or more people to tell a specific story about a time that you were at your best. The purpose was to start to understand the difference between what you yourself think of who you are and how others perceive you. Through hearing these stories from other people and identifying whether their reflections of you line up with your own perceptions of self you start to gain an understanding of what Boyatzis calls the Real Self. Without a good understanding of who we are right now and how others perceive us, we are unable to really work towards the Ideal Self. With this assignment you can start the process of identifying your Real Self and being the path towards creating the Ideal Self.
In addition to the PLA’s, which make up 60% of the grade, there are also five weekly quizzes which account for 20% of the grade, and a final exam which also accounts for 20% of the grade. This is the standard track of the course but there is also a Practicum Track offered which requires the student to do the ALAs. I took the standard track and there is a lack of clarity around what assignments you have to do for which track. But even though I didn’t have to technically do the ALAs for the standard track, I did them anyway. As I have mentioned, the assignments really make the course, but they are not difficult by any means. The only thing it requires of you as the student is that you are willing to explore your own thoughts, to be mindful.
MAKING SENSE OF INSPIRING LEADERSHIP THROUGH EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
I started by mentioning that I have been following the MOOC world for a few years at this point. I have completed four courses from Coursera, one from Open2Study, one from edX. There are countless other courses that I have started and played around with before ultimately deciding that they weren’t appropriate for my aims or learning style. At the moment I am enrolled in another course with Coursera.
Out of all of these courses that I have taken, I have to say that this course has been the most influential.
I mention all of this not to highlight what I have done (because, let’s be honest, it isn’t that impressive), but more so to qualify my reflections on this course. Out of all of these courses that I have taken, I have to say that this course has been the most influential. What I don’t mean by that is that it is a perfect course or that it made the best use of the online learning platform or that it was the most fun. What I mean is that this course challenged me to learn, to grow, and to develop in ways that none of the other MOOCs that I have taken have. Boyatzis is a deeply engaged professor and he takes care to demonstrate his commitment to a population of students who he may very well never see. It is that intentionality and commitment, coupled with his decades of experience and knowledge, that allow this course to be so powerful for those who are willing to engage with it.
This course challenged me to learn, to grow, and to develop in ways that none of the other MOOCs that I have taken have.
In my correspondence with Dr. Boyatzis, I asked him what was the one thing that he hoped students would take away from the course. He said, “The one thing I hope learners take away from the course is that ‘relationships matter.’ Then the two corollaries are: (1) the key to better relationships (and personal sustainability) individually and in our groups and organizations in the form of sustained, desired change is positive emotions; and (2) you need positive and negative experiences (PEA and NEA), but PEA in much higher and more frequent doses.”
In this course your relationship is mostly with the material, but Boyatzis manages to build a relationship with the learner through reflective guidance. One of the things that Boyatzis really was impressed at with the course was the sheer amount of groups and discussion that were generated through the course; all instances where people were able to engage in new relationships with positive emotions. But as I mentioned above, all of this requires the a certain level of engagement from the student and only then can the learning happen.
If you engage you will walk away knowing what those jargony buzz words that entitle the course mean. And that will be the very least of your knowledge. You will have learned strategies on how to be a more compassionate leader, and how that compassion will lead to relief of your own stress. You will be able to articulate and identify emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence competencies both in other people and in your own self. You will gain a better understanding of the people who have shaped you and how you shape others that are around you through the concept of emotional contagion. And perhaps most of all, you will walk away with a toolkit that will help you to better understand who you are and who you want to be, both as a leader and as a person.
And maybe, like me, you still won’t be one of those young professionals celebrating with their arms in the air. But you’ll at least know why they are celebrating.
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