On 27 September, 144 platoons of cadets met across West Point to conduct the first “Leader Challenge” workshop of the year. In each platoon, the cadet platoon leader and an officer mentor worked together to facilitate a platoon-level session that featured round-robin, small-group conversation about a real-world, high-stakes, ambiguous problem faced by a second lieutenant in Afghanistan.
The “Leader Challenge” methodology is a two-part process: (1) Online Interaction; (2) Face-to-Face Workshop — all centered around a challenging, concrete experience that an actual leader faced. You can read more about the Leader Challenge approach to developing leaders in this ARMY Magazine article (PDF).
Sometimes, participant feedback gives you the best feel for the value of an experience. These are some responses after this particular Leader Challenge:
“I feel like I got to check out of being a cadet and check into being a PL for an hour. It was awesome!”
“I was really excited last night when I walked down the hallway and overheard a group of yearlings standing around the CCQ desk debating some courses of action for the scenario. They asked me if they were going to be able to do more Leader Challenges, and then we discussed the scenario for a little while.”
“The Leader Challenge had the best content and material in any PMEE lesson I have seen at West Point.”
“I am very pleased with the new system, and it really puts the control, tempo, and discussion of PMEE back into the cadets’ hands.”
“I was amazed at the energy and the deep level of discussion that was taking place. This was relevant & meaningful development.”
“Everyone loved the small groups of four, and the rotations kept the conversation lively.”
“It really forced cadets to think. It pushed them outside of their comfort zone by having to share and discuss the actions they would have taken, but it also helped them see the variety of possible answers as they listened to what their peers had to say.”
Things to Sustain in Future Leader Challenges
Upon reviewing the feedback, the top two most mentioned “sustains” were:
(1) the small-group format with rotations (high energy) in which one facilitator stays at the table and all other cadets move to a new table (all new people at the new table);
(2) the real-world relevancy of the content. Cadets appreciated wrestling with tough issues in the context of the profession they are entering.
I will close out this blog post with a few more participant comments to reinforce how positively the high-energy format is received:
“The LC concept with small group discussion and round robin is a winner. More cadets participate and they universally agree that small group sessions are the most productive part of the program.”
“The rotating groups kept the dialogue going. It allowed the groups to gain multiple perspectives on the problem.”
“I love the small group idea. Cadets talk so much more in groups of 3-5.”
“The discussion atmosphere, instead of a lecture.”
“This format is by far the best and most well received by the cadets.”
“I want to sustain the different rounds switching up the small groups. I felt that by getting different people’s take on the situation was good and allowed us to see the scenario from different points of view.”