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Emerging Leaders: Inaugural Class Completes Program

 Emerging New Leaders in the College of Optometry

The process of developing any skill requires a learned teacher, good work ethic, and, quite simply, time. Nothing worth doing well in life is figured out overnight, which is why for the past semester, a group of first and second year Optometry students at the University of Missouri - St. Louis have been meeting to work closer to the goal of becoming leaders within their field. 

 Under the direction of Assistant Dean Dr. Ed Bennett and Program Director of Student Services Nicholas Palisch, the members of the Emerging Leaders Program were guided through the nuances of leadership and its pertinence to Optometry. 

Back left to right: Assistant Dean-Dr. Ed Bennett, Nicole Ethridge, Jamie Weiser, Ellen Sanders, Kristine Andersen, Kelly Freeborn, Program Director- Nick Palisch.  Front left to right: Ethan Brilley, Shelby Baugh, Laurie Thompson, Nicholas Zahn, Katie Loock, Morgan Tiefenbrunn, Yousef Ibrahim.

Once a week, a specific topic would be presented by either of the instructors, and a subsequent group project would take place to practice the skills. For instance, following a brief lecture on the topic of conflict management in the workplace, the students divided into cohorts of three and were given prompts that allowed each person to act out certain roles. One student would act as mediator while the other two acted out the roles. 

First year optometry student and member of the Emerging Leaders Program, Yousef Ibrahim, found this aspect of the meetings to be quite enjoyable "My favorite part of the class was the amount of small group interaction. By getting to spend a substantial amount of time in group discussion, I feel like we were better able to evaluate what type of leadership was our strong suit as well as how to channel our strengths to maximize our potential as leaders." 

Aside from the leadership related lectures and group discussions, the students also took part in what is called StrengthsQuest, which is a testing software utilized by many corporations and academic institutions to evaluate an applicant's five most resounding attributes.

 Over the course of the semester, the students would continually look back to what five characteristics were most prominent in their repertoire and use them to solve an array of theoretical dilemmas. And while it was necessary to focus on the skills one has already established, the students were encouraged to try novel ways to solve work-related disagreements, for example. 

As with any other skill, the process of developing and honing leadership is never complete. The graduating class of 2014's Emerging Leaders Program is now much more equipped to take on new roles of leadership within the field of optometry, but they also know that what they learned was not merely a means to some proverbial end. In fact, being a leader sometimes means behaving in a way that superficially appears to the contrary, "Before taking the class, I put people into two categories: leaders and followers” commented Ibrahim. 

 Leaders and followers are really two different people and a leader can often take different roles.  “I came to find, however, that there are a number of different ways to lead. The Emerging Leaders Program showed me that being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the person that everyone listens to; sometimes, knowing how to evaluate a situation and react accordingly is even more important” said Ibrahim. 

The adage that leaders must be made, not born, is exceedingly apparent once the veil is lifted. Leading from the front can be straight forward, try pulling a wagon.  Leading from the back, however, is something that requires an entirely new perspective, and one that all good leaders should aspire  to become.  

By: Nick Zahn Class of 2017


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