Part Two: Discussing Leadership @ Grinnell

Tonight was our second campus-wide discussion about reclaiming the title “leader” at Grinnell. This time around, we had a wider range of class years represented and the conversation was much more anecdotal than the one we had on Monday. Students shared experiences of feeling undermined or threatened at Grinnell, particularly in the classroom.

Themes that emerged included fear of failure and fear of inadequacy as deterrents of speaking up in class or self-identifying as a leader. In one particular anecdote, a student shared a moment when singers in the choir were asked to step forward to fill a list of cabinet positions. Silence. It took a few long pauses and unenthusiastic volunteers for those positions to be filled. The student sharing the anecdote recalled how Grinnellians, instead of identifying themselves, turned to each other and asked their neighbors to nominate them. She compared this to a similar experience in high school where the prompt for students to step up as leaders was followed by a rush of anxious volunteers.

When asked to reflect on the reason for their reluctance to step forward, students cited a sense of unhealthy competitiveness on campus that didn’t necessarily center around grades.  They shared anecdotes of other students calling them names or degrading their achievements, two trends that seemed to arise out of our smaller community and the sense that we all know each other “too well.” Whenever a student is presented with an opportunity to apply for an internship or a position on campus, the fear that they might be up against their classmates or that their classmates may judge their achievements held them back.


This week’s conversations have left us with a better sense of the obstacles facing Grinnellians as we step forward and try to find our place on campus. Not only is there a stigma against leadership titles, but our constant comparisons to each other generate insecurities which hold students back.


Future discussions will center around creative recommendations for improvements on campus. How can we introduce incoming first years to leadership–NSO programming, tutorial discussions? How can we mitigate the “resume builder” criticisms and encourage students to actively plan for a life beyond Grinnell without devaluing each others efforts to get there?


We are grateful for the Grinnellians who have shared their experiences and joined our initiative. This is why we are proud to be Grinnellians.

Discussing Leadership @ Grinnell

Tonight was our first all-campus discussion about leadership at Grinnell. As students came into Younker lounge, we asked them to write one sentence in response to each of the following questions:

1) How do you assert yourself as a leader?

2) Describe another leader on campus to whom you look up to…

Answers ranged between describing leadership styles (taking charge, organizing, collaborating, etc.) to specific labels for leaders on campus (Stonewall Resource Center, Technology Consultant Corps). One theme that emerged was “support” as an important characteristics of leaders on campus. To follow up on this, we asked students if they felt support to assert themselves as leaders in the community. While the unanimous consensus was “yes, we feel supported to assert ourselves as leaders,” later responses revealed “no, we do not feel supported to identify ourselves as leaders.”

There is a clear tension between engaging in campus and improving our community versus identifying yourself as a leader. Students agreed there is a stigma on campus against leadership titles, because it is too often conflated with resume building or insincerity.

Here are some notes from the larger discussion:

photo (3)

After forty minutes, students split up into groups to discuss the impostor syndrome, which we associated with the hesitancy to identify as a leader on campus. We also asked them to come up with solutions to the impostor syndrome in the classroom, residence hall, and extracurriculars. We are excited to post their brainstorming later…stay tuned…

Discussion Question: Work-Life Balance

It’s that time of year again…

Since we’re returning to campus with our new-semester resolutions in tow, we thought it’d be a good time to talk about work-life balance. Sandberg addresses this issue throughout Lean In, and particular attention is paid to it in the chapter titled “The Myth of Doing it All.” Work-life balance is also a hot topic for students, faculty and staff at Grinnell, and happens to be the subject of an upcoming campus Town Hall this semester. In preparation for that discussion, we wanted to take this opportunity to examine the “myth of doing it all” on our campus.

Throughout the chapter, Sandberg recounts her own 12-hour days spent at Facebook and Google and her struggle to  ”unplug” from the office and leave early. Her mantra throughout this section is “Done is better than perfect” (p. 125)–or the idea that it’s often our own quests for perfection that lead us to putting in more time than is actually necessary. Another important theme throughout the chapter is guilt management, and our reluctance to admit when we need to slow down and take a break. Part of this guilt, Sandberg argues, comes from our often misguided perceptions of how many hours the people around us work. According to her, “we overwork to overcompensate” based on implicit demands we imagine our bosses (or professors, friends and family) are putting on us.  We also overwork out of fear of damaging our career prospects, since employees are still judged by how much facetime they put in, rather than the efficiency of their work.

All of these issues are relevant to Grinnell, especially when we feel pressure “have it all”: a social life, good grades, extracurriculars, physical/emotional wellbeing–the list goes on. Oftentimes, our conversations on campus perpetuate this issue as we compete over how many hours we spend in the library or who has the “harder” major.

For this discussion, we want to share our own experiences with work-life balance. Do you buy Sandberg’s argument that it’s possible to unplug? How have you managed expectations in your own life at Grinnell? And what steps do you think the campus community could take to help more students “unplug” and feel comfortable admitting when they need a break?

For our alumni members: how have you found balance in your life after Grinnell? Looking back on your time on campus, which activities were most important to you, and what would you have done differently knowing what you know now? How does the pressure to do it all in the “the real world” compare to the expectations you felt at Grinnell?

Discussion Question: the Impostor Syndrome

We’re sensing a theme…

Among the bevy of initial reactions to Lean In, the impostor syndrome emerges as a phenomenon to which many of us can relate. Sandberg describes the impostor syndrome as feeling like a fraud and doubting oneself with each accomplishment: “and every time I didn’t embarrass myself–or even excelled–I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up” (28).

How do you endeavor to overcome the impostor syndrome on an individual basis? How can we rally to mitigate these feelings of inadequacy in our Grinnell community?

To supplement the conversation, here is a TED talk from social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, who addresses the importance of body language as a tool of self confidence and positive public perception:

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Happy discussing!


Discussion Question: Initial Thoughts

Alright everyone, let’s get this party started! 

For our first discussion of Lean In, we want to hear your initial reactions to Sandberg’s argument. It doesn’t matter whether you’re midway through the book or already finished–just share what stood out to you the most!

To contribute to this discussion, log in with the details we sent to your Grinnell email account and comment on this post by clicking on the above comments tab.

We can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Finally, if you have any feedback about how we’re running this discussion or any ideas for future questions, just reach out to either Remy or me. This is about all of us, so we want to make sure that you’re getting everything you want out of your participation in this project.

- Jennelle


Our Mission

Grinnell+ is about leadership. Looking beyond campus, we ask a single question: how do Grinnellians assert ourselves as leaders? The group endeavors to answer this question by connecting Grinnellians online and in-person.

This site is our digital space where we invite Grinnellians to share experiences, challenge ideas, and celebrate action. Congruently, we inspire informed rhetoric and foster projects among the student body through on-campus discussions framed around a single text.

Leaning In

For our first annual program, we selected Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the WIll to Lead. A recent publication, which received acclaim and criticism alike, Lean In poses meaningful questions about women in the workplace and the proverbial work-life balance dilemma. Sandberg’s message is particularly pertinent to Grinnellians given the College’s recent attention to leadership in teaching and learning.

Thanks to funding from Grinnell College Libraries and the Student Government Association, copies of Lean In are available for the student body to access. To start the conversation, we’re working with fifty standout students who are reading the book over winter break. Nominated by faculty and staff, these students represent a dynamic range of leadership-styles on campus. Upon returning to campus, we will host a series of all-campus fishbowl conversations to discuss themes from the book and relevant student experiences.

 Join Us

If you’d like to see where we’re at in our discussion, check out our blog and follow us on twitter @grinnellplus. Or, take some time to meet the faces of Grinnell+ by browsing our member profiles. We’ve also set up a resources page with content we think is especially useful for our conversation.

Please join the conversation by visiting our sign-in page. Once you register for our site, you’ll have the option to set up your own profile, connect with other Grinnellians, and share your own thoughts on the blog.

Thank you,

Jennelle & Remy