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Harmony Plus Future Leader Academy: A Leadership Program Co-Developed by Students

Author(s) : Matthew Brown1, Calla Buttke2, William Doolittle3, Zefan Feng4, Nina Li4, Allen Wang4, Patrick Wang4 and Jonathan Zhao4

Publisher : FOREX Publication

Published : 28 January 2022

e-ISSN : 2347-4696

Page(s) : 19-30

This article describes the process of co-developing a leadership education program called Future Leader Academy, an online workshop series co-designed and delivered first by advanced high-school age students in northern California during the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic period.

The Future Leader Academy (FLA) is an idea that began with a simple phone conversation in April of 2020. One of my previous clients from the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business MBA program contacted me. I had been a faculty advisor a few years ago for her company in Shanghai, China. She called to get an update. She told me that her entire family had recently moved from Shanghai, China to northern California. Her name is Danielle Liu, and she was the human resource director for the fintech company we advised called VCredit is based in Shanghai. We had led a consulting team of MBA students doing their capstone project with VCredit as their client. No one had an idea that she and two other colleagues were now living near Mountain View, CA and had co-founded a new business enterprise in Silicon Valley that started back in 2014. That new enterprise was called Harmony Plus, Inc. (HP). What HP does is provide supplemental education to younger students (mostly Chinese-American) as they navigate everything from elementary school curriculum to college admissions.

Yet, a phone call with HP co-founders, Danielle, Suzanne, and Bill Zhao [their CEO] included a bit broader idea than providing supplemental education services to Chinese-speaking kids who needed extra learning support. Our conversation explored a much bigger idea that they said needed more input. Their idea was to expand Harmony Plus beyond serving the smaller markets of Chinese-American students with SAT-prep, college-admission essays, top-tier university applications, etc. Bill Zhao shared with me a vision that they hoped to build a new kind of leadership development program for young students that the conventional primary and secondary school systems in California did not provide. He asked me if I could help design [and perhaps pilot] such a program. Because we were several months into the period of the Covid-19 pandemic, he told me that such a program would have to be delivered online, and would we like to become a part of such an idea.

For most young leaders, their first exposure to any formal leader development education occurs in their adolescence, through their secondary school, or by participating in extra-curricular activities, or specific youth leader development programs. It is a critical time for identity formation and a tenuous time for self-monitoring their sense of worth, competence, and future potential. As with many adolescent experiencing the processes and challenges of leader development, these experiences can be very different for each student. With recent calls to better address leadership development that occurs at a younger age, adolescent leadership development has become a more important research topic.

Though the literature on developing adolescent has grown substantially over the last twenty years, it is fragmented across many disciplines, with a lack of integration and theoretical framing hindering our advancement in knowledge. Therefore, there is a critical need for a comprehensive review article to guide scholars to build an integrated knowledge of how leader development occurs for adolescents.

We searched for literature relevant to leader and leadership development designed for adolescents and reviewed a total of 68 academic papers (2000–2020). We identify and critique five themes in this literature that hold important implications for the leader development of adolescents. The generalized themes were well-being, positive or courageous following, learning, assertiveness, and service to others. These themes formed the initial framework for further student discussion and elaboration.

Approximately 83% of adolescents ages 13-17 participate in at least one extracurricular activity [1-4]. Adolescents often develop their skills and self-competencies through participation in specific extracurricular activities [5, 6]. Positive leadership developmental experiences that occurred in extracurricular activities predicted a more positive general self-worth, well-being, and social and academic self-concept [7].

This participation has been associated with increased school engagement, self-concept, and academic achievement [8] and less opportunities for time to be spent in unsupervised risky activities [6, 9]. These associations have been found to be stronger when youth are involved in a variety of leadership activities and have opportunities to assume a leadership role [10].

However, it is also evident that participation in multiple types of activities (e.g., band, sports) has been associated with additional beneficial outcomes for adolescents in structured settings where adults are present and supportive [8, 9, 11].

Recent research on leadership development suggests that peer-led and self-directed leadership development may have the greatest impact on adolescents [4]. To advance knowledge, we offer a more self-directed and co-created approach to leadership development as an exemplar toward building a model of adolescents' leader development and provide ideas for future leadership research. Finally, we offer insights on how the processes and practices of adolescents' leader development may also inform a broader adult leader development curriculum for everyone to learn.

Our understanding of leadership is skewed towards the adult experience of leadership. There is a gap in the literature with regard to the experience of leadership among teenagers and young adults. Young people experience their first formal organization at school and models of leadership are developed from this critical period [12, 13].

Research on the teaching of leadership to adolescents focuses on many approaches that include social justice models [14]; inclusion and multilingual models [15]; gender models [16]; and Social frontiers and Engagement models [17] to name a few major themes.

In addition to reviewing the literature for identifying major themes characterizing teaching leadership to adolescents, we reviewed the pedagogical approaches. Many of these different approaches are thoroughly described and evaluated in the works of Snook, et al. [18]; Kellerman [19], Mumford, et al. [20] and Starkey & Hall [21]. Each of these studies emphasizes self-directed, collaboration, and experiential approaches to teaching leadership as a skill-based subject. However, several studies attempt to partition leadership into narrower categories that may [specify] some demographic or condition of leadership. For example, gender models assume that boys and girls learn [and demonstrate] different kinds of leadership, hence we should study them in separate ways [22]. Another example is [authentic or responsible] leadership teaching models that often have moral or religious underpinnings [23].

This paper proposes a new model for leadership education through ‘co-created leadership modeling’ – a term which builds on the models of distributed and authentic leadership and on a dialogic understanding of experiential learning. It defines ‘experiential learning’ as an essential form of leadership development similar to the pedagogy of challenge [23] and self-managed learning [24] is proposed as a new way of developing the leadership curriculum and pedagogic approach.

Teaching leadership is often associated with executive or managerial development in business. However, when we talk of leaders’ in terms of skill and performance, many people focus on politicians and local officials as their models. In education, we often look to senior administrators, superintendents and principals, and sometimes teachers in the classroom. As a college professor or secondary school teacher, one is challenged with the broad task of developing future leaders. It is a challenge that scholar, Barbara Kellerman at Harvard University involves developing “leadership literacy” [19].

Leadership literacy is an interesting thesis for understanding leadership education. It generally means that by examining both the leadership literature available to all of us, and modeling the example behaviors and principles, one can learn to demonstrate a kind of identifiable competence in leadership ability or potential to lead others. This is interesting because without simply appropriating some existing theory of leadership [25-28], we propose a novel attempt at having the students themselves co-create the leadership model…a kind of build the bridge while crossing it approach that comes from design thinking and experiential learning theories.

The research literature on this type of leadership learning approach is limited. However, one recent important study found that Positive emotions, learning behavior and teacher support in self-directed learning during adolescence matters a great deal [29]. These researchers found that well-being and teacher support were critical to empowerment in self-directed learning. They also found that age and gender were not significant differentiators in motivating students to self-direct their learning. They also found that collaborative or peer-based activities significantly improve learning engagements of all kinds.

The designing a webinar-based education program usually begins with questions about how long will the online session be? Who is the intended audience? What will the program be about? How will it be different? Who will sign up and pay for it? The only thing I had to compare it to would be a custom executive education seminar which is what I was part of as a faculty member at the University of Michigan. What we remember most about that experience is how much the customers (executive participants) shaped the program design. Like consulting, you give the client what they think they want [and need] and use your own expertise and knowledge to [flavor] the main entrée. Yet the HP co-founders told us that this audience doesn’t exactly know what they want or what they need with respect to leadership education. What is leadership education anyway? If you were to ask 200 academics what leadership education was, you would surely get 200 different answers. And according to noted authors on the subject of leadership like Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford University, and Barb Kellerman at Harvard University who have written much on the subject, a lot of those answers would be business-based narratives that perpetuate stories and myths of wealth, power, or political success; or promote this-year’s false prophets in order to sell books or mythologize current industry heroes. Much of the literature on leadership is either so context-specific and of little use outside of a narrow field or subject area, or so generic it is full of promise and platitude disguised as principle. However, given the criticism of the literature on leadership, it is a compelling idea…it is a big idea and big ideas always need to be revisited and reframed. There is always room for one more new approach to leadership education simply because it is inexhaustible as an idea and demands we reconsider it carefully and often.

Figure 1: HP Future Leader Academy Workshop Series {Six modules – Four levels (2 in IND and 2 in ORG)}.

After our lofty phone conversation, we were intrigued by the challenge of teaching an audience that had very little leadership experience…high school age students. We had no idea what these young people were interested in and that they would be the least bit excited to learn about leadership. So, before we began to think about them and the program, out team decided to return to one of the very first essays that we read when some of us were in high school. Its title was “What is an Idea?” by Mortimer Adler. First published in 1958 in the Saturday Review, my father had given me this book called the World of Ideas (1964). The book was one of my personal treasures and had been given to my family from a distant Scottish relative that went to Yale University after WWII. We mention this book because it was rereading this very essay about ‘what is an idea?’ that became the design thinking for the Future Leader Academy program.

One of my colleagues, Esther Wojcicki who knows something about educating young people that how one should approach teaching leadership to these young people. “Make it clear and simple and have them build it”, she insisted first. Then she said something more fascinating that could have come right out of the Mortimer Adler essay. “Try and teach them aptitude before ability” which was a notion we didn’t quite understand at first. “If you can make them think that they are the architects of their own design, then you will have something. And it won’t hurt to teach them a little philosophy…all they learn is computer science around here…coding and technology rules here in Palo Alto, CA.”

After speaking with Esther and the Harmony Plus co-founder group several more times, we agreed that the initial Future Leader Academy series with a six-workshop module. This first module would include a trial workshop where we could test a few things and also begin to understand our new audience. The workshops would be synchronous and two-hours long, delivered online on the Zoom video conference platform once a week. Harmony Plus would provide the student participants and necessary technical support, while we would provide the content and lead the delivery each week. The Harmony Plus leaders decided that the online webinar sessions that comprised the live portion of the workshop series would be on weekend evenings. This time period was chosen so it would: 1) not interfere with the student’s weekly class/study schedules; 2) ensure that only highly motivated students would enroll; and 3) not conflict with existing Harmony Plus offerings.

Harmony Plus CEO, Bill Zhao initially asked me to create a framework for the entire Future Leader Academy modules. He said he envisioned a kind of “Sushi Bar Style” or what we called a modular framework where we would design each six-workshop series beginning with an individual-level focus, proceeding to team, organization, society, global, etc. each series focusing on a broader context of leadership. It was a very ambitious idea. He insisted that the main reason he had chosen me for this project was that Danielle told him that if anyone she knew could build out this idea from scratch, Matthew Brown at the University of Michigan could do it. We told Bill and Danielle that my faculty life at Michigan changed to teaching at a small private college where my daughter could attend for free. As soon as she graduates from college, we both are going to retire. He said that being a very reasonable man, one might agree to become a Visiting Professor of Leadership at Harmony Plus, Inc. for one year.

Our first FLA meeting yielded some great ideas. Calla Buttke, who had just started with Harmony Plus coined the program name: Future Leader Academy after we had tossed around some initial program names. William Doolittle, another young and very capable Harmony Plus manager suggested that the students develop a kind of cumulative portfolio of work/assignments throughout the series and then post them on their own website that we could help them build. A young employee named Tiantian Chou gave us the trial workshop theme [and suggested the first experiential activity] for the trial workshop. The theme would be Lost at Sea. Tiantian had just graduated from Pepperdine University’s MBA program where she had done the Lost at Sea activity. We had also done similar activities at Michigan’s Ross School of Business with MBA students.

Our conversations about the workshop series continued into late summer. It was clear to us that the design and delivery of the online webinar-based workshops were not the main challenge we faced. That challenge would be to market the program to the Harmony Plus participant audience. Bill Zhao would tell us that they served largely served a population of about 1200 Chinese-American (and also some Chinese citizens) that were fairly affluent [mostly living in the San Francisco Bay Area] and interested in giving their teenage children an educational “advantage” with the supplemental education services HP provided. Harmony Plus had been fairly successful serving this market for about six years at the time this effort began, yet the co-founder team insisted they would have to expand their educational offerings to a much broader demographic to remain successful.

Harmony Plus assembled a future planning program team in September of 2020. The first objective was to design and execute a two-hour trial workshop to both student participants and their parents. The Harmony Plus marketing effort would focus on inviting previous customers to engage in the new program. The trial workshop would be free to all who signed up. We would have a few meetings with the team and then we would design the online workshop. The guidelines were few other than it would be experiential learning, be actively engaging for the participants, and introduce me as the Visiting Leadership Professor. Bill Zhao told us that the customers would be attracted to a “star” professor from such a prestigious institution such as the University of Michigan. Apparently, they had several noted professors already delivering all sorts of programs for their students as part of their strategic partnerships with UC Berkeley, Stanford, and other university faculty.

We told Bill that the team would propose designing/delivering an entire series of workshop modules (6) all connected by the idea of developing future leader potential at four levels of analyses (from individual to societal/global), so we began by talking about how to create a trial workshop that would satisfy the following guidelines:

1. Be extremely engaging for the students and give them a lot of control;

2. Be experiential meaning the learning would not be lectures or unidirectional;

3. That it would be free (as a trial event) and would also involve parents;

4. That it would be fun and different from their usual educational activities;

5. That it would deliver value in terms of new knowledge and practical skills.

The first run of the trial workshop I [Leadership Decisions Under Uncertain Conditions] took place on Sept. 12th with 42 students comprising 9 Breakout sessions and was called: Making Decisions Under Uncertain Conditions: The Lost at Sea Experiential Activity. The second run of the same workshop took place on Oct. 4th with 4 students and two student facilitators. We learned a lot about how to navigate the Zoom program and execute the workshop logistics. We got the go-ahead to design/schedule the first workshop series module that we tentatively titled: ‘Discovering The Leader In You’.

This first module included six workshops (each of 2 hours long). This online series was designed to develop our future leader candidates by focusing on first building personal well-being, interesting ways to become a powerful follower, learning how to be a better learner, explore ways to change in positive ways, and learning about the joy and satisfaction of serving things bigger than the self. Here are the initial workshop titles:

FLA MODULE 1 - (IND – 1) Emerging Individual-Level Themes:

1. How to thrive – Building well-being with positive psychology

2. We all start as followers – Becoming a courageous follower

3. Adaptive learning – How leading can be learned

4. Motives of self-change – Practical habits for potential leaders

5. Shaping Your Servant Leader – Understanding public and private selves

6. Capstone Workshop – Charting a Leader Development Journey

After some discussions, the HP team decided that the trial workshop theme would be: How to Thrive Under Uncertain Conditions. The timeliness of this thematic choice cannot be underestimated. At the time of this meeting, nearly all of America’s education system, including higher education had transferred instruction online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone seemed to be learning on the Zoom platform. We were six-months into self-quarantining at home and most of us were pleased to be working on something collaborative. The result of our first planning sessions was that we would begin the workshop with the Lost at Sea experiential, then employ the Kolb Adult Learning Cycle moving through the activity. The participants would break out into teams of four students; the teams would choose their survival items by ranking them [out of 15]; work toward a consensus, then assemble a rationale [story] reflecting the reasons for certain choices. We would bring the teams back together and they would compare their stories, and build a survival plan together. To close out the exercise, we would have them derive a simple [active] experiment to test one of their choice [rationales] against other choices. The experiments would be checked against some surprise conditions that would occur during the activity [storm that damages items and an item-stealing incident].

The parents would participate in a slightly different way. Their break out room would be facilitated by the HP leadership who would explain how the Future Leader Academy would work and explain its value to their children. After a considerable marketing effort, forty-two participants signed up for the first trial workshop. It occurred on Saturday, September 12, 2020. The entire team learned a lot from that first trial workshop effort. The parents really struggled to understand what we were doing in the workshop session. They did not seem to understand the objectives or the learning context. We would have to do a better job explaining the value of the learning if we were going to convince them to enroll their children. The students enjoyed the activities and found them to be engaging and different than their regular high school studies. Many of the students said they enjoyed the “way we had them collaborate, learning together, talking with each other, and basically “running the show” as one student put it. This was a valuable piece of feedback because we intend them to run the show. The challenge would be to frame the sessions so that [the student participants running their own show] would work.

The main lessons provided by the trial workshops were: 1) keep the students engaged by giving them control of the activities; 2) listen carefully to what resonates with them and what doesn’t; and 3) simplify, clarify, and simplify some more. Esther warned us that what we were teaching to these high school students was pretty sophisticated stuff. It wasn’t that they could not understand it, but they had to translate it into chunks they could comprehend and assimilate in their own way. There were many good examples of this sort of translating evident during the discussions of the Lost at Sea activity. Students derived complex rationales for choosing various items to rank high based on their own imaginative views of the activity context. For example, one student argued for high ranking of the plastic sheets and nylon rope because he would use it to build a sail for the lifeboat vessel. It was an elaborate expression that illustrated a high level of creative imagining and careful evaluation.

One of the interesting ideas that came from their Lost at Sea discussion was the notion that it was very difficult to predict the effects of uncertain conditions at sea. That survival depended on the entire group making good choices based on some sort of hierarchy of needs. In fact, one student actually used that very expression. The question that we pressed was, “How is surviving different from thriving?” What sort of individual would thrive under such uncertain conditions? How does one prepare for such situations? What does this have to do with leading?

Of the several productive ideas that flowed from the student’s discussions, one stood out as a potential model building example. This was a direct example of facilitating Kolb’s model [abstract conceptualization] which I was surprised to witness. A few students spoke about choosing items based on anticipation. They said if they anticipated the bad conditions that would likely happen then they could prepare ahead of time. They also said that anticipating the conditions would help them influence other’s choices. Both of these ideas are brilliant insights that lead us to explore how to build a framework or our first basic leadership model. We called it AIMM: Anticipation, Influence, Mindfulness, and Management. These were the first four ideas that students mentioned and we helped them string together into a conceptual tool. We did this because the facilitators wanted to explain to them how they could use the experiential learning process to enhance their learning and make the collaborative experience richer and more interesting. They liked how the directions were introduced to them how to how to abstract the ideas they presented and shape them into building a model, yet we were not sure that they thought the model would be of any further use to them. Even though their insights about how to prepare for uncertain conditions were quite sophisticated, these insights remained under-developed and disconnected to any actual experience.

The trial workshops taught us about the Zoom platform features and limitations. Students would on occasion mute their mikes or seem to drift off the screens to attend to other things. It is difficult to monitor more than 5-6 participants at any one time, so break-outs are important. We also needed more personnel to facilitate the break-out sessions and discussions, but there was no time to train anyone.

This section is an attempt to describe what we did in the first five workshops without explain all the activity facilitation details (See appendix). There was a lot of prior preparation for each workshop in terms of developing an activity protocol-itinerary and facilitation guide, a MS PowerPoint slide presentation that we used to guide the workshop session, and a portfolio assignment list [plus Homework Organizer] that clearly laid out the portfolio work to be completed after each workshop preparing the participants for the next workshop session. HP decided that the module would take place on Saturdays at 5:30 pm PST [8:30 pm EST for me]. The key design feature of the entire workshop series would be the assembly of leadership aptitudes using a model that was built partly through our design discussions and student discussion within each session. The final product looks like this (Figure 2):

Figure 2: Final product.

One of the powerful ideas that came from the HP support team (Calla and William) was that the FLA students could complete a series of assignments, then create a web-based site to showcase their leadership portfolio. That way, when they were applying to college or to an employment opportunity they could use their site as a resource, producing a curated archive of their recent work. The challenge would be getting the students to invest a substantial amount of time and effort into this given all the other obligations they have with their high school studies. (“The trick William Potter, is to not mind that it hurts.” Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia, 1962).

In conclusion, this white paper is the first in a series of journal articles that will chronicle the Future Leader Academy adventure at Harmony Plus, Inc. based in Mountain View, CA. At the time of this article, we were completing the first module (Workshop #6) where the FLA students were beginning to build their portfolio websites. This paper is designed to be an introduction to this effort and does not include much about workshops 2-6. That detail will appear in subsequent papers. I wish to thank Calla Buttke and William Doolittle for their excellent support in this effort and the FLA students that helped create this amazing leader development online workshop series.

Appendix A:

EXAMPLE 1: Harmony Plus - Future Leader Academy
Leadership Workshop I Itinerary and Facilitation Guide
Student Participant Packet 1

The following set of documents comprises a walk-through guide to the first leadership workshop [online] in the Future Leader Academy series. It contains ALL the necessary information and is organized as a work-flow document. This means that each session of the workshop will be presented in the order it takes place in the workshop itinerary.

There will also be a power-point slide deck available that the instructor/facilitators will use to guide the session. This packet and the .ppt slides may be made available just prior to session [3-6 hours prior]. There may be instructions included for pre-workshop session preparation.

Welcome to the                                                  TIME STAMP

Future Leader Academy (FLA)                                                 

Quick Overview of Harmony Plus and FLA                5 min.  

Brief description of FLA Series 1 Workshops

Brief Introductions of HP staff and instructor

Experiential Activity: Launch                                      10 min.                                           

Quick Look: Forest App []


Stay focused, be present         Why get it?  How to use it?                           [$1.99 at App Store]

[possible note on additional app called]

Introduction: Over the next few years, you will be assessed and tested in numerous ways. Everyone gets sick of be evaluated, yet we are just going to have a bit of fun learning how to use assessments to discover ways to thrive. Many people mistake thriving for happiness, and while happiness is a worthy objective, it may not be a leadership goal.

10 min.

Tag Line: What leadership is about is not making people happy, but becoming a champion for the conditions where other people can thrive, helping people find their well-being.

Let’s take a very brief survey and you can discuss the results. Here’s how to do it. Happiness Pulse Survey (4 brief questions). It is just for fun and sets us up for more elaborate information gathering. The more you learn about yourself, the better your self-awareness and confidence.

PULSE READ - Directions: For each of the following statements and/or questions, please circle the point on the scale that you feel is most appropriate in describing you.

How to use assessment results: This is just a [pulse] read and scoring ranges from 4-28. From 8-15 total is generally considered low happiness, while 20-28 is considered high. Notice this is a self-assessment and does not indicate any overall disposition, rather it is a crude measure taken in the moment. Considering what influenced a specific scoring is the objective.

15 min.

IND Activity #1 Facilitators: Have Students Complete In Break Outs

Rate Your Purposes Worksheet – Enrolling in FLA

[Handout Worksheet # 1]

Additional Surveys and Assessments will be forthcoming

Why are we doing these surveys? Gather information and have a little FUN

Assemble the Happiness Pulse survey results

Example: Happiness Pulse Survey [First Assessment in series of three]

1. In general, I consider myself:

1            2              3               4                5                6                7

Not a very happy person                                                   A very happy person

2. Compared to most of my peers, I consider myself:

 1           2             3               4               5               6              7

Less happy                                                                      More happy

3. Some people are generally happy. They enjoy life regardless of what is going on, getting a lot out of what life brings them. To what extent does this sound like you?

 1           2             3               4               5               6               7

Not at all                                                                          A great deal  

4. Some people know what makes them thrive. How well can you create conditions for thriving in your daily life on a regular basis?

1            2             3               4               5              6               7

Not at all                                                                         Very well

TOTAL SCORE ___________

IND Activity #1 Well-being Surveys II: Take the survey assessment – See URLs] (about 25 questions)

Discussion of overall results

Distribute: Overview of Well-being Report [PBS Handout Reading #3

ADVANCED Well-being Survey #3 [Time permitting]

UPenn Authentic Happiness – Questionnaires [Students create a sign-in account]

IND Activity #2 Directions: In Your Break Outs, you will be given a worksheet [WB Calendar] =>

Creating A Well-Being (WB) Calendar [Hand out worksheet #4] AND a partial list of Working List of Well-Being Actions.

35 min.

IND Activity #3

TED Talk on Joy-Soldiering The Art of Finding Hidden Joy and Well-Being

Discussion Questions:                                                                                                         20 min.

1) Where do you find joy in everyday life?

2) What are the situations/circumstances where joy remains hidden for you?

IND Activity #4 The Woodcarver Story Activity

Directions: Take turns reading parts aloud of this famous Taoist Tale by Chuang Tzu (circa 500 BC.). Then answer the questions below.

The Woodcarver

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand

Of precious wood. When it was finished,

All who saw it were astounded. They said

It must be the work of spirits.

The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:

“What is your secret?”


Khing replied: I am only a workman.

I have no secret. There is only this:

When I began to think about the work

You commanded, I guarded my spirit,

Did not expend it on trifles, that were

not to the point. I fasted in order to set my heart at rest.


After three days of fasting,

I had forgotten gain and success.

After five days, I had forgotten praise and criticism.

After seven days, I had forgotten my body

With all of its limbs.


By this time all thought of your Highness

And all of the court had faded away.

All that might distract me from the work

Had vanished. I was collected In the single

Thought of the bell stand.


Then I went to the forest to see the trees in

Their natural state. When the right tree appeared

before my eyes, The bell stand appeared in it.

Clearly, beyond doubt. All I had to do is put forth

My hand and begin.


If I had not met this particular tree there would have

Been no bell stand at all.

What happened? My own collected thought

Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;

From the live encounter came the work which

You ascribe to the spirits.

PLENARY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:                                             20 min.

1. What is this story about for you?

2. What does the story make you think of…?

3. How does its message intersect with your life right now?

4. Are there any leadership lessons you can draw from the story?

5. A text is said to have a voice of its own…how would YOUR voice tell a similar story?

Example Answers to Discussion Questions

1. What is this story about for you?

This story is about a man who an artist given a task by his ruler. He is a very skilled and experienced artisan. However, he is also a very humble and wise person. He is given a task and at first is reluctant and guarded…about how observers viewed his work. It is a story about how the artist loses himself in his artistic creation and his efforts are the reward of his aptitude for creative visualization, or seeing the natural result of the absence of distractions, distractions of authority, command, audience, and even self…until what is left is craft and mastery…drawing out some kind of essence from within the subject itself into a new creation…art.

2. What does the story make you think of…?

This story made me think of my father who was a gifted artist in his own way. He was a metallurgist by trade, but he was also a sculpture and painter. I used to watch him practice his artistry in his spare time (which were rare times) and I could see his intense focus, but it was a focus that seemed to relax him. He told me that a painting is the result of seeing not what is actual, but what is possible.

3. How does its message intersect with your life right now?

My father’s message has stayed with me…it is always with me in everything I do. He was a gifted person and I always thought he could have been a great artist instead of a factory worker. Yet he once told me that it didn’t matter what his occupation was to him, he didn’t work for a paycheck or for others to reward him…he put his artistic gifts to work in his daily efforts. He told me that making breakfast or making your bed was artistry if you choose it to be…I didn’t really understand what he meant until I went to Outward Bound and learned about mastery of craft, one of the pillars of the Outward Bound leadership credo.

4. Are there any leadership lessons you can draw from the story?

I can draw many lessons from this story, but one stands out. It is about patience and suspending the self, letting go of the distractions that interfere with one’s natural artistry, one’s creative potential. I read this and am reminded that I am more than what I think or believe. There is an artist, a creator that resides within that I must allow to come forth…enact the world and set my heart at rest…so I can lead.

5. A text is said to have a voice of its own…how would YOUR voice tell a similar story?

I thought about what this story says about creativity, yet I also thought about what it leaves out about the work…how much effort and practice it may take to get to the place where one’s mastery comes to life almost effortlessly…where the product “comes forth” from some magical inward source the author calls “natural”…I still take issue with artistic efforts [revealing] an object’s essence…I am rather more inclined to argue that human artistry does the opposite in changing or transforming objects into reflections of human values or imitation. It made me think of aesthetics the meaning of art.

If I were to tell a similar story it would begin with a simple creative effort judged not so much to be the work of spirits, but the beginning effort of a child. A playful experiment, the invention of an imaginary game or world. This kernel or seed would grow into its own plant and be nurtured by the growing child that becomes an artist in his own right…yet what he discovers is not what he envisioned as a boy…that plant evolves mostly on its own…what the artist does is learn to till and fertilize the soil, to create the context for artistic expressions…like what Voltaire ends his story, Candid with…let us tend our gardens. The quintessential story about naive optimism and art.

MINI-LECTURE TOPIC: Five Leadership Ideas that Create a Leadership Creed: (See Slide deck) This mini-lecture will focus exclusively on liberty as a leadership concept linked to individual well-being.

Liberty: Is primarily about freedom from authority and control

              Is about how certain rights take precedence over leader preference

              Is about why it is important to not exercise undue authority over others

Additional Ideas: Equality, Individualism, Democracy, Rule of law                                                                             15 min.

Workshop I - Wrap Up

What’s Coming Up in the Courageous Follower Workshop #2

                                                                                                                                                                10 min.

Gratitude Visit Exercise (Portfolio Assignment #4)

This is a very simple experiential activity that you can do immediately on your path to well-being. It goes like this. Close your eyes. Then think of someone [visualize their face] that did something or said something that changed your life for the better. It can be something big or small and the person can be close or not so close to you in terms of relationship.

It is best to think of someone you have not properly thanked. It can be someone physically distant, but it works better if you can meet them mask-to-mask :).

Take a minute and write down what you might say. That way you have a couple of options. You can prepare what to say if you meet in person, or if you are too shy or hesitant to meet, you can send a gratitude card to that person. You will find that expressing gratitude leads to positive feelings.

This is a very simple experiential activity that you can do immediately on your path to well-being. It goes like this. Close your eyes. Then think of someone [visualize their face] that did something or said something that changed your life for the better. It can be something big or small and the person can be close or not so close to you in terms of relationship.

It is best to think of someone you have not properly thanked. It can be someone physically distant, but it works better if you can meet them mask-to-mask :).

Take a minute and write down what you might say. That way you have a couple of options. You can prepare what to say if you meet in person, or if you are too shy or hesitant to meet, you can send a gratitude card to that person. You will find that expressing gratitude leads to positive feelings.

Highlighted Portfolio Assignments for Workshop #1: These will be explained by instructor during wrap-up and assigned. The highlighted ones should be completed first.

Explaining your Survey Results

Well-Being Calendar Assignment

Joy Soldering OR Woodcarver Story Write-Up

Gratitude Visit Activity

Advanced Reading #1: On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

If I Were a Leader Today: Creativity Through Poetry #1

ALTERNATIVE Experiential Activities: You can substitute ONE of these for any portfolio assignment of YOUR choosing (Except the Well-Being Calendar).

1) Three Good Things Exercise: 1. Name/describe three GOOD things that happened today. It is OK if this is hard to do. They can be small-minor things.

Next to EACH positive event, write about ONE of the following questions:

Why do you think this good thing happened?

What does this good thing mean to you?

How could you experience this kind of good thing in the future?

2) Random Acts of Kindness [Active Experiment]

You probably did not hear the story of the man in line at the Post Office that needed to get 1 cent stamps for all his postage because the postal rate increased and he was unaware until he went to mail a letter. He got to the post office and there was a long line of very annoyed people who were complaining about the time wasted waiting in line…when he got to the counter he was asked politely what he wanted, and he said give me 25 sheets of 100 [1 cent] stamps. That will be $25 dollars sir. He turned around to the line and shouted, “Who needs penny stamps”, and promptly gave everyone that was in line waiting for the same stamps what he had purchased swiftly emptying the post office lobby. It even made the postal workers grin.

Have you ever done something like that? Can you dream up [or recall a story of] a random act of kindness? How do these acts relate to well-being or leadership?

Optional Activity: If I Were a Leader Today: Building Leader

Creativity Through Poetry #1

Future Leader Academy Workshop Creativity Series


If I were a leader, I might likely say

“You did an excellent job today.”

I would search for a man, a woman, or boy

Whose heart would leap in a moment of joy

By a word of true praise that travelled about

Telling what’s in and noting what’s out.


If I were a leader, I would likely find

people whose work was an exemplary kind;

And notice to all when good things came

By shouting out loud the do-gooder’s name,

Rewarding the people that helped us to win

And saying, “This is a great place to begin!”


Now, a small bit of praise is not much to give,

The simplest gesture yet quite effective.

Everyone needs to know that they’re worth

Their weight in gold theirs to unearth.

 Share a kind word that which is fair,

Welcomed and wanted by all everywhere.


Become a fine leader that those wish to be

Cheer the efforts made and

with that extending your hand

As if to say just a little more and…we all win.

Ever mindful, ever humble,

Ever-present, yet barely known to exist.

                                            - Matthew V. Brown

Have you ever written a poem? Trying to write poetry is act of genuine creativity, yet also an act of courage. It is likely that a poem that you write yourself becomes an example of your originality and inventiveness. It doesn’t even have to rhyme perfectly either.

See if you can take an everyday notion and put some rhythm and rhyme to your composition.

It is very much like writing a song…words and music together is a great way to express yourself.

Remember: “What we are trying to do here is to build aptitude then ability” - Esther Wojcicki

Appendix B (Staff & Student contributions):

Calla Buttke, FLA Program Manager: What does it mean to be a leader? Is leadership innate, or can it be learned? How can a student become a leader?

These were all questions we pondered when we initially conceived the idea of having a leadership workshop series at Harmony Plus. As a new team member at Harmony Plus, when Bill Zhao, co-founder and CEO of the organization, proposed that we launch a leadership program for high school students and that I should work closely with Professor Matthew V. Brown to design and implement this program, I was enthusiastic about being given the reins to take on such a significant and important project. Having worked in the college admissions industry for the past couple of years, the buzzword “leadership” is ever-present when reading articles about college admissions and discussing with students and parents how they can get into top-ranked schools. However, this term is a bit mystical – what exactly does it mean? How can a high school student develop leadership skills in a meaningful way, especially in the era of online classes and social distancing? How can students demonstrate their leadership skills to admissions officers?

In order to tackle these big questions related to leadership, Harmony Plus’s solution was to create a Future Leader Academy in which students could develop essential leadership skills, build confidence, and enhance their teamwork abilities. In this academy, students would participate in MBA-level experiential activities and examine leadership case studies. In addition to developing soft skills, we also aimed to have students create something tangible to share on their college applications. As a result, we decided that students would create their own Harmony Plus Leadership Portfolio (HPLP), which would showcase their leadership abilities, project management skills, and intellectual work in an online format that can be shared on future applications for colleges, internships, and jobs. In today’s digital world, having an online presence has become an essential aspect of applying for colleges, internships, and jobs, so the purpose of HPLP is to help high school students begin to showcase their skills, work, and accomplishments in an online format that admissions officers, hiring managers, and potential career mentors can easily find, access, and understand.

Our plans came to fruition when we launched Future Leader Academy – Module 1 in November 2020. The combination of teaching students soft skills while guiding them to create something tangible proved to be a resounding success. Through the series of workshops, students had the opportunity to learn leadership theories, discuss new concepts with their peers and Professor Matt, reflect upon their own leadership experiences through portfolio contribution assignments, and synthesize all that they learned in an organized, clear, and aesthetically pleasing way in their Harmony Plus Leadership Portfolios. Moreover, in the last class session, students who had been relatively reserved in the first workshop had become active and engaged leaders, volunteering to discuss and reflect upon their experiences with the entire cohort. Seeing how much the students had developed over the course of FLA – Module 1 was astonishing. We look forward to their further personal cultivation in FLA – Module 2!

Nina Li, Student: Brief Essay Assignment Exemplar

In this assignment, I learn about assertiveness and how it is different from aggressiveness. I find out what assertiveness personally means to me and why I think it is an important quality to have.

What is assertiveness and why is it important?

Assertiveness means speaking up when my opinion clashes with another. It’s about being respectful but strong while maintaining my stance. Speaking up means I will be very clear and respectful with my words but not back down or give in without getting my point across. It means that I will not turn things into an argument and hurt people.

Sometimes it is easier to define something by what it is not. The author defines aggressiveness and assertiveness by using their negative space, what it leaves behind, or the side effects. Assertiveness and aggressiveness can potentially have the same end result, but they are different in terms of the effect they have on other people. Assertiveness is about being respectful and not using abusive language. Aggressiveness “violates the dignity and humanity of another.” While people will feel respected when you are assertive, they are harmed by aggressiveness. Assertiveness is about standing your ground while being respectful and considerable. This means not easily giving up ideas but not being overly aggressive.

Why do I (as a leader and a student) need to be assertive?

Leaders need to be assertive. Assertiveness will get their point across while not being aggressive towards their followers. Leaders need to have a strong sense of direction and vision in order for them to be effective. If a leader isn’t very assertive and is easily influenced, their followers will lose direction as a result. Leaders need to be assertive to make things happen.

I want to learn more from other famous or strong leaders. For example, speeches by well-known leaders can reveal their characteristics and habits. They are great for studying their styles of leadership.

Assertiveness is also just a skill in general besides a great asset in leadership. One example I can think of is college. College is a place where multiple perspectives can clash. It is important for people to try to understand others when supporting their ideal. This means being assertive about their own opinion while allowing dissents to coexist. Being overly aggressive can backfire and harm others. Before being put into society (or the “real” world), students (including me) need to learn the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness. They need to be open-minded and be a “well-rounded human being.”

Patrick Wang, student - Program Testimonial Essay

Hello, I am Patrick Wang. I am a grade 11 student and I participated in FLA Module 1. In Module 1 there were six workshops. Each workshop had its own topic and practices.

The first workshop talked about Well-being and how that can affect leaders and followers. I learned what area of my wellbeing I have to work at in order to improve my leadership. The second workshop talked about positive attractors and asked me to interview a local leader. This allowed me to learn about the factors that build a good leader and how a leader is connected to its follower. The third workshop talked about the differences between assertiveness versus aggressiveness. How are these two related and when should they be used. This helped me to understand that by changing my aggressiveness, people around me will listen to me more. This showed me that a good leader does not solve problems by aggressiveness. The fourth workshop talked about what is a good habit and how to plan goals for the future. This helped me set goals and change some of my habits. The fifth workshop talked about Servant Leadership. But I was not there for the fifth workshop. The sixth workshop we basically reviewed the topics we learned in the first five workshops and made contributions to our portfolio websites.

I think the FLA program should be recommended to students who are interested in being leaders or students who want to be better followers. These leadership development programs will provide them with knowledge about how leadership comes about and what a leader needs to do to succeed. A good leader comes from being a courageous follower. Therefore, developing a good follower personality can benefit every student that completes this program.

Matthew Brown, Visiting Professor of Leadership, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA ; Email:

Calla Buttke, Program Manager, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

William Doolittle, Program Associate, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

Zefan Feng, Student, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

Nina Li, Student, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

Allen Wang, Student, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

Patrick Wang, Student, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

Jonathan Zhao, Student, Harmony Plus, Inc., Mountain View, CA 94040 USA

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Matthew Brown, Calla Buttke, William Doolittle, Zefan Feng, Nina Li, Allen Wang, Patrick Wang and Jonathan Zhao (2022), Harmony Plus Future Leader Academy: A Leadership Program Co-Developed by Students. IJBMR 10(1), 19-30. DOI: 10.37391/IJBMR.100103.