Good Leadership? There’s an App for That

Using mobile technology as a bridge for connecting leadership education and practices with digitally savvy nillennials and Generation Zers can be a dynamic way to grab attention. There are apps out there that are peer-oriented, that offer leadership tips as a guide for developing individual leadership plans, and that serve as digital templates offering tangible ways to structure and assess leadership growth. 

Many begin with questionnaires, surveys, or exercises that can serve as assessment tools to uncover existing leadership knowledge, behaviors, and experiences. They can help determine core values, craft a vision statement, and identify an individual’s attributes and personality styles. With this information, the idea behind most of the apps is to help transform values and attributes into action, often by combining access to leadership tips with tools for note taking, organizing, task management, tracking, archiving, and developing customized leadership plans for specific cocurricular projects. 

The apps also offer a two-way communications path between student employees and professional staff who can monitor activities, offer support, and enhance leadership-related services. Supervisors can use the apps for promoting mentoring and engagement opportunities, asking for and receiving feedback, highlighting partnerships and successes, and as a recruitment tool. Three decades of research by sociologists Frank Dobbin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University has shown these types of interactions, when used to spark engagement, increase contact between employees, and draw on peoples strong desire to look good to others can also boost diversity and stamp out bias. 

The InnerWill Leadership Institute’s free app, the InnerWill Igniter, uses a values-based leadership model to empower individuals and organizations to identify the values that motivate them, and then to transform those values into action. The institute is a nonprofit committed to transforming individuals and organizations through values-based leadership and the app is a customized version of that program that uses a series of exercises to determine core values before helping determine a personal leader vision statement. From those core values, beliefs, and principles, the app helps build an awareness that from those values comes purpose, and from purpose, your own personal vision. 

“Leadership is a conscious choice to work first on yourself to in turn positively impact the lives of those around you. Leadership isn’t a title, it’s a choice,” the institute’s website notes. Much of the app is based on the work of business leadership professors Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes, both at Santa Clara University, and their “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:” Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. InnerWill distills those five concepts down to hope, compassion, courage, and significance. It’s no accident that Posner and Kouzes’ work is discussed elsewhere in this edition of The Bulletin in an article on leadership outcomes for entry-level professionals that was written by Dr. Jeremy Schenk, executive director of Northwestern University’s Norris University Center. 

My Student Leader app was developed by Fairfield University business professor Lisa Mainero and global strategist David Mangini, with the help of 255 college students over five years. The app allows for the creation of specific leader plans to be formulated using leadership tips found in a template. There is a notepad that can be tied to a smartphone calendar to help students remember what they must do to accomplish their leadership activities, and it also includes a reflection section where students write notes about their leadership legacy to spur improvement in the future. 

The app guides students through a menu of peer-oriented, collaborative leadership tips, and then students create customized templates based on their roles and responsibilities as residence advisors, athletic captains, event planners, fundraising events, business case groups, campus tour guides, club activities, corporate internships, group projects, mentors, house presidents, retreat leaders, senior week chairs, service for justice coordinators, student government leaders, and student orientation leaders. 

Another free leadership app is Telsa, which allows leaders to assess themselves across 12 key team leadership areas covering their interaction with team members, non-team members, and how they manage themselves. It is used in conjunction with a “Twelve Essential Leadership Skills” booklet that summarizes 12 key leadership skills: 

  • Setting up Your Team for Success 
  • Effective Team Decision Making 
  • Running Productive Team Meetings 
  • Dealing with Conflict in Teams 
  • Communicating with Senior People 
  • Practical Negotiation Skills 
  • Evidence-Based Decision Making 
  • Avoiding Unconscious Bias 
  • Making and Managing Commitments 
  • Creating a Safe Team Communications Environment 
  • Collaborating Beyond Your Team Boundaries 
  • Effective Leadership Early Warning System 

Another dynamic app when it comes to organizational needs like note taking, list keeping, and creating a well-organized hierarchy of notebooks and notes, is Evernote. It allows users to create notes, which can be text, drawings, photographs, or saved web content, that are then stored in notebooks, where they can be tagged, annotated, edited, searched, given attachments, and exported. 

“Remember everything with your second brain,” is how Evernote is marketed, and it is a perfect place to file away years of records, web clippings, and random ideas. It also auto-syncs across all your devices, including desktop, smartphone, and tablet, and your ideas, photos, and clipped pages are always available, no matter where you are. 

Are The Men at the Table Talking Too Much?

Not an app, but rather a website that can be used from any smart device, is now being used by the Center for American Women and Politics and others to measure who is dominating the conversation, by gender. 

“Inclusion is more nuanced than knowing who’s in the room, because not everyone has equal power or visibility,” said author and creator Cathy Deng. “Often, even in rooms that seemed gender-diverse, men still dominate conversations to a large extent. I noticed this dynamic at events I attended, so I built as a way to measure participation beyond just who’s at the table.” 

The program keeps time of when men are talking versus when anyone else is talking, and then calculates the percentage of time that men were talking. 

This led Deng to help create GenderAvenger, which uses digital tools to gather concrete data points on gender dynamics. The project, #whotalks, was originally used during the 2016 election in a partnership with Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics to research the prevalence of women commenting on politics during top rated cable shows. The results were discouraging, with men appearing 44% more often than women, demonstrating a clear need to continue exposing the disparity. Today the #whotalks project is being used by the Women’s Media Center to continue tracking news analysis by gender. 


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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