Course Syllabus

Revised:  March 30, 2020

Summary of changes:

  • The "Community Engagement Experience" has been revised.
  • Writing assignments: There is one fewer journaling entry than originally required. Assignment dates that were originally after March 15 have been adjusted. 
  • Changes to the order of topics and required readings are found in the "Modules" section, rather than in this Syllabus. 
  • The "Course Requirements" section now reflects the university's commitment to flexibility in the face of COVID-19.  Additional flexibility will be provided as needed. 
  • The "Academic Integrity" section now includes the "Spring '20 Commitment to Academic Integrity, Equitable Instruction, Trust and Respect."

Collective Leadership: Building Capacity for Innovation and Change (AEM 4940)

Spring 2020

Mondays & Wednesdays, 11:40 - 12:55 pm

Instructor: Margo Hittleman;

Office Hours: Immediately after class, or by appointment

Grading: Letter; 3 credits

I. Description: 

In today’s complex, interconnected, multicultural world, leaders (of teams, civic groups and entire organizations) must be able to consistently assist diverse actors holding divergent perspectives and widely distributed power to engage in collective, coordinated and collaborative action to transform thinking and systems. This course will introduce you to the growing theory and practice of collective, relational and engaged leadership frameworks consistent with organizational innovation and community change models. The course will help you develop a broader understanding of what counts as “leadership”; build a portfolio of collective, relational and engaged leadership skills, practices and behaviors that foster collective capacity, innovation and achievement; and expand your perspectives on appropriate courses of action when putting leadership in practice.

This course is highly participatory. We will build a collective learning community; practice collective leadership skills, methods and behaviors; and engage in a community project supporting broad, diverse public participation in the planning and implementation of the Ithaca Green New Deal. 

II. Course Aims and Outcomes: 


This course aims to extend your understanding of leadership beyond the focus on individual leaders toward an exploration of leadership as collective achievement of members of a group who must co-create a shared direction, learn together about problems and opportunities, align their understandings and goals, and coordinate action.

This course will:

  1. Introduce you to the growing body of academic and professional literature related to the collective, relational and engaged facets of leadership.
  2. Support you to engage thoughtfully with these frameworks and critically reflect on their implications for your own leadership.
  3. Assist you to build your collective, engaged leadership skills, practices and behaviors.
  4. Help prepare you for meaningful, lifelong community engagement through an engaged learning project in collaboration with selected community partners.

Specific Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Identify contesting intellectual frameworks (lenses) for “leadership” and critically assess the implications of these varying lenses for engaged action in a multicultural, interconnected, shared power world.
  • Articulate the connections between contesting leadership frameworks and your own values, cultural norms, attitudes, beliefs, and action.
  • Demonstrate the skills and habits of collaborative critical reflection and collective meaning-making through writing, analyzing, listening, engaging in civil dialogue, contributing to others’ learning, and supporting your peers to do the same.
  • Describe a set of tools, practices and behaviors for collective, engaged leadership within diverse groups and communities, and demonstrate the appropriate use of some of these.
  • Demonstrate the ability to apply course concepts to real world settings as presented by your own leadership arenas and the course’s community-engagement project

III. Class Format & Community Engagement: 

Class Format: This class is structured as a highly participatory, collective learning community. While there will be some short “lecture-type” presentations, most of our time will be devoted to activities, group work and discussions. Class participation  will make up 15% of your grade. See more about how I define "participation: under "Course Requirements." 

Community Engagement Experience: This course has an integrated community engagement component to allow us to explore collective leadership in the context of a complex and compelling “real world” issue: organizing individuals, government, organizations, businesses, and communities to collectively address both climate change and social/economic equity. You are expected to fulfill the course’s engaged commitments in a professional, responsible manner.

There will be several components to this experience: 

  1. We will have community members come to class as participants and guest speakers.  
  2. In late-April, you will organize and facilitate an online dialogue related to inclusive, just, sustainable community-building, using the principles of Collective Leadership. We will design this experience in class together. 
  3. On Wed., April 22 (Earth Day), during class time, we MAY attend an online community event (depending on what is available). 

You will write two reflective memos that integrate these experiences with what we are learning about Collective Leadership. This is a required component of this course. The two written reflective essays about these experiences each constitute 15% of your grade. If unavoidable conflicts or other constraints will prevent you from participating in these activities, you must discuss this with me during the first two weeks of the semester so we can determine whether there is an agreed-upon alternative.

IV. Course Requirements: 

As of April 6, additional flexibility in regards to the requirements below will be provided in accordance with the university's COVID-19 practices. This especially applies to class "attendance" and assignment due dates. You will not be penalized for circumstances beyond your control including your own or family illness, other unanticipated family support needs, technology issues, and other challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, you are still responsible for communicating your needs responsibly and as soon as possible. 

Attendance: You are expected to arrive at class on-time and ready to participate. More than one unexcused absence and one unexcused late arrival will impact your participation grade. Additional excused absences will be allowed for medical reasons (supported by a record of treatment at Cornell Health or by another physician); serious illness or death in the immediate family; participation in pre-authorized university activities; or other circumstances beyond the student’s control. All such absences should be communicated to the instructor prior to the absence, or as soon after in cases where prior notice is impossible. 

Participation: In this class, “participation” means not only completing the readings and sharing your own insights in written assignments and class discussions, but also participating in the community engagement experiences and exhibiting collective leadership skills throughout. These skills include drawing out insights from others; helping build on the collective conversation to support the group’s learning; collaboratively supporting effective group dynamics; suspending judgement and seeking common ground; and conducting yourself with an attitude of empathy, open-mindedness, and mutual respect for differing perspectives. Learning these collective leadership skills is one of the desired outcomes of this course, and you should seek to practice them consistently.

Community Engagement Experience: The community engagement experiences are a required part of this course. See above "Class Format and Community Engagement" for more. 

Assignments: All assignments are due by 11:59 pm on the dates noted and will be submitted electronically via the course’s Canvas website. 

Teams and groups: Many of the assignments and activities will involve working with others. Most of these pairings or groups will rotate (i.e., be for a specific class activity only). Your participation in and contributions to all these groups make up part of your grade.

Electronic Technology: You are expected to actively contribute to the learning of others. Electronic technology (laptops and tablets) are permitted for course-related activities such as taking notes, reviewing class materials, and, as of  April 6, attending class on Zoom. Non-course related e-mailing, texting, using social media or any other behavior that takes your attention away from our collective learning tasks will not be permitted and may result in dismissal from the course.

Required texts: 

  • Stephen Preskill and Stephen Brookfield. (2009). Learning as a Way of Leading. Jossey-Bass. 
  • Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. (2014). The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation. 
  • Edgar H. Schein. (2013). Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

These books are in the campus book store. They are also on reserve in Mann Library and available for a 2-hour loan. 

All other required articles, book chapters, handouts and videos are listed in the weekly assignments and can be accessed through the course website. 

In some cases, we will read only a chapter or two from a particular book. You may find the rest of these books useful if there are ideas you want to dig into more deeply. Many of these books are on reserve in Mann Library and available for a 1-day loan. 

V. Grading Procedures

The grading for this course reflects the values of Collective Leadership. While much of your grade comes from demonstrating your own reflection and learning, a significant part of your grade also comes from your contributions to your peers’ learning and from your contributions to the community engagement project.

I have defined how I will assess "participation" in "Course Requirements" above.

All writing assignments will be graded based on:

  • Your thoughtful engagement with the required readings/videos
  • Attention to the assignment questions
  • Evidence that you have used the readings/videos to push forward your thinking about the theory and practice of collective leadership and its application to your own leadership
  • Attention to appropriate academic and professional writing standards: spelling, grammar, citations, etc.

You will be graded based on the following:

  • Class participation (20%)
  • 9  weekly journal entries, 1-2 pages each (25% of total; two lowest assignment grades will be dropped) 
  • 2 reflective essays , 3-4 pages each (30% of total; 15% each) 
  • Final paper (25% of total)

Assignment descriptions and due dates can be found under the "Assignments" tab of the course website. 

VI. Academic Integrity

All students are expected to abide by the Cornell University Code of Academic Integrity and A Spring '20 Commitment to Academic  Integrity, Equitable Instruction, Trust, and RespectYou are responsible for knowing and complying with these Codes. 

Knowledge creation is inherently a collaborative activity. We will all be learning from each other, as well as from the scholars and practitioners whose ideas we explore, the guests who visit our class, and others. I encourage you to discuss course ideas and assignments with your peers outside of class. At the same time, academic protocol requires you to:

  • Significantly contribute your own thinking and ideas to the journal entries, reflective memos and papers you submit.
  • Appropriately acknowledge the contributions of those whose ideas you are building upon through footnotes, endnotes or other citations.

Any work you submit for the individual assignments must be your own work. Any work you submit for a group assignment requires that you, in fact, meaningfully contributed to it. 

Please review The Essential Guide to Academic Integrity at Cornell for advice about how to acknowledge the work of others.

Integrity is essential to Collective Leadership, and I take it very seriously. Participating in plagiarism (copying or stealing the work of others) will have consequences, both for students who represent that work as their own and for students who help others do so. Plagiarized assignments will automatically receive no credit. Consequences may also include a failing grade for the course and/or University disciplinary action.

VII.  Inclusivity Statement

At the Dyson School, we believe that embracing the rich variety of backgrounds and perspectives of our community members can build bridges and change the world. That’s why we’re committed to fostering a culture of inclusion where every person is welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. We are proud to develop leaders who uphold our principles of equity, recognition, and inclusion during their academic journey as a student and beyond. We expect you to: 

  • share your unique experiences, values, and beliefs
  • be open to the views of others.
  • honor the uniqueness of your colleagues
  • appreciate the opportunity that we have to learn from each other in this community
  • value each other’s opinions and communicate in a respectful manner
  • keep confidential class discussions of a personal (or professional) nature
  • use this opportunity together to discuss ways in which we can create an inclusive environment in this course and across the Cornell community.

VIII. Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

In compliance with Cornell University policy, equal access laws, and the standards of inclusion this course is based on, I am available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations. Requests for academic accommodations should be made during the first three weeks of the semester, except for unusual circumstances. Students seeking accommodations are encouraged to register with Student Disability Services (Cornell Health Building, level 5) to verify their eligibility for appropriate accommodations.

IX.  Wellness

I highly encourage you to seek support if you are experiencing personal or academic stress at any time during the semester. I am available to talk with you about stresses related to your work in this class or to assist you to reach out to a wide range of campus resources.

Helpful resources include:

Course Summary:

Date Details Due