Comprehensive Reflection

Calvin Cortez

This past semester in Leadership 1016 has taught me how to take the leadership skills
that I learned Leadership 1015 and use them to help others find themselves and form their own
opinions. I see group facilitation as an application of the transformational leadership model that I
have grown pretty fond of. Essentially, instead of being a leader that plows a way forward and
urges others to follow along the transformational leaders subtly guides others to self-actualize. I
have come to think of group facilitations in much same way because instead of dictating
conversation to people I am letting them make their own conclusions. However, it is not a laissez
faire endeavor; one must possess some essential skills in order to help their followers help
themselves.

First and foremost, in order to become a successful facilitator, one must leave their biases
and prejudices at the door. Offending people, grinding gears, and causing misunderstandings will
almost certainly cause the participants in a discussion to shut down. This is why in class Jake
would have us do exercises to help us understand that the same event or, situation can be
interpreted in a different way by many different people. Essentially, there is no wrong or right.
This was probably the single most valuable and significant skill that I was taught throughout the
course of Leadership 1016. While I have developed this as part of my mindset to a certain extent,
this class has definitely reinforced this in my head. It is so incredibly important to understand
that your viewpoint is not the right one, it is simply an opinion. This, of course, can be a very
difficult concept to understand because we’ve all grown up in a world where we take everything
at face value and tend to ignore how others perceive things. This can become a huge obstacle at a
facilitator because we have to keep our own understand of event as far away from the
conversation as possible so that it doesn’t interfere with or conflict with the viewpoints of others
within our group. Personally, the best example of this conflict occurring this past semester has to
be when I was in charge of facilitating a conversation about personal identity vs collective
identity. I knew that I had a pretty strong opinion on the matter myself going into the
conversation so I had to be sure that I didn’t let it butt into the conversation. I definitely would
have skewed my participants’ opinions or formed some sort of conflict that would have made the
conversation less productive. Therefore, I made all of my questions very open ended and without
any biased lean. I quickly also discovered that how you say things is just as important as the
meaning behind them.

Effective communication is one of the least understood and most overlooked part of
human life. Luckily, this past year I have had the opportunity to take communication skills
classes to further my understanding of the subject and to help improve how I communicate with
people. I have been able to utilize these skills in class to help convey my message to my fellow
students. As a leader, it is important to make sure that everyone is on the same page and
understands what your goal is. This can be done through a variety of ways but the most helpful
technique for me was using mile markers and verbal cues in my meaningful conversations to set
a tone for the conversation moving forward. I also made sure to use hand gestures and personal
eye contact to keep all members of the conversation engaged. For example, when I felt like
someone was being left out of the conversation or was daydreaming, I would use eye contact and
subtle gestures to help them get back into the conversation. This worked on many occasions in
both my “family” group discussion and our larger issue guide discussion. I learned how to read
people’s body language and analyze their words to make sure that they were actively engaged in
the discussion. If they weren’t I had to think pretty quickly and try to resolve any issues to keep a
productive conversation going.

Stagnating conversation is the death of any good discussion; I learned this in the
beginning of the semester when we tried to hold small topic discussions in our family groups.
Because we were all somewhat strangers at the beginning, I feel like a lot of us were very
hesitant to share many experiences or voice our opinions were well. There was a lot of awkward
silence and weird vibes through a lot of those first few conversations. We did not really have an
assigned facilitator in any of these conversations so we were just kind of left to fend for
ourselves. That is not to say that we did not have any good conversations, but they were just too
choppy to make them very meaningful. When I moved on to having to facilitate my own
discussion, I made it a very clear goal to try to keep conversation flowing no matter what. Even
if we had to go off topic for a little bit, it was still better than a few people sitting in absolute
silence. Jake reinforced this idea to us every time he had us split up and begin a conversation.
Instead of just saying “hey, go ahead and talk” he would be more specific and say “So now we’re
going to talk for the next hour”. That is why when I introduced discussion topics in the family
facilitation and issue guide facilitation I would be sure to let everyone know the goal. “We’re
going to be talking for the next hour, I want to make sure everyone is comfortable with the
subject and matter and just know that this is a judgment free zone.” This introduction, while
small, set the tone for the rest of the discussion because it reinforced goals and opened up
channels of communication if participants were feeling timid or confused. This would make for
better and more meaningful conversation because everyone would be on the same page and have
an end goal in sight.
My perception on the role of a facilitator also changed over the course of the semester. I
saw how different discussions were when we had a facilitator vs how when we didn’t have one. I
definitely feel like the quality and quantity of words said were much better near the end of the
semester when we had more structured conversations with a designated facilitator. I think that
this difference was due in large part to how someone thinks as a facilitator vs how the think as a
participants. Participants are only really trying to add to the conversation to get their points
across. From there, they go back and forth with other participants until they run out of things to
say. The facilitator, on the other hand, is analyzing and trying to pick apart to conversation so
they can exploit and points brought up. I feel like a lot of good points are overlooked or under
analyzed by participants because they are not as worried about the group dynamic as much as
they are about getting their points across. It is the facilitator’s duty to highlight good points and
pose new questions to the group so they can take the conversation to a deeper level. This, in my
opinion, is what makes the facilitator the leader; the ability to interpret current group dynamics
and take the proper steps to try and improve it. Reflecting back, I now realize the huge difference
that a skilled facilitator makes on any conversation. In a facilitated the discussion, there is a real
goal and direction given that drives the group to make final conclusions that benefit everyone.
This concept had a large influence on how I perceived the role of leaders.

I have begun to see leaders as more than just the person in charge, they are responsible
for the well-being of their followers. I try to look at the relationship between leaders and
followers as a sort of journey that the two make together. Whether they are trying to accomplish
a goal, make a decision, or facilitate a discussion, the two parties must depend on each other to
do their job. This interdependent relationship is a far cry from what I perceived leadership to be
before coming to Virginia Tech and becoming a member of the RLC. My very definition of
leadership has changed many times over the course of this year and I’m sure that it will continue
to do so moving forward. Nothing is set in stone, but my experiences to date will help me
manage my role as a leader and follower in a much more effective way.
As a global citizen and a person dedicated to finding a way to improve living conditions
for those who are currently suffering around the globe. My service oriented mindset motivates
me to try to do what I can to help my fellow human beings. This monumental task also requires
labor and dedication from countless people who share my same values and vision. I did my best
in leadership class to try and obtain skills that would allow me to be an effective leader and
follower to the cause that I want to dedicate myself to. I first had to try to define leadership for
myself and see how I could use it in my everyday life. My approach can best be summed up in
the “Servant Leadership” philosophy that I studied in Leadership 1015 last semester. One must
put the needs of other before themselves if they are to succeed and make a real impact on the
world. While I am not yet ready to make this huge sacrifice of myself, I can see myself doing so
in the future when I am well established and made a good career for myself. I will always have
the knowledge I obtained in the back of my head to use towards my goal when the time comes.
Success is a combination of preparation and timing; for right now I am preparing myself for
when the time comes. In the meantime, I can still use all of these skills to further my current
pursuits and to enrich the lives of the people around me.
Leadership 1016, and all of LRDS for that matter, has introduced me to new concepts and
ideas that have made me grow both academically and intrapersonally. I now see myself as an
agent of change who is acquiring the skills necessary to let my voice be heard and to influence
those around me to do the same. Facilitation skills is just another tool that I will be able to use on
my way to self-actualizing and eventual transcendence to others.