Learning by Example: Effective Use of Stories in Army Leadership Training Is Dependent on Context

By Horey, Jeffrey | Talent Development, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Learning by Example: Effective Use of Stories in Army Leadership Training Is Dependent on Context


Horey, Jeffrey, Talent Development


Facing high-risk and turbulent external environments, leaders at all levels make decisions paramount to long-term organizational success, particularly in the U.S. Army.

Recently, frequent deployments and decreased opportunities for institutional learning have placed a premium on the effectiveness of multi-source feedback, mentoring, and other methods to accelerate development of Army leadership competencies and to inculcate Army values. Amid resource constraints, the Center for Army Leadership (CAL) strives to improve leader development through acceleration of competency acquisition.

Stories, as exemplars, present a powerful and motivational tool for leaders at all levels to better understand what the Army expects from them. Meaningful stories are easily remembered and have long been a device to transmit the culture, beliefs, and history of an organization.

However, relatively little is known about how the content and context of an exemplar is related to individual learner development and retention. CAL and ICF International are currently developing a library of leadership exemplars to better communicate effective leadership behavior throughout the Army.

The intent is for the stories to be concise and clear examples of various doctrinal competencies. This article reports the results of an examination of how exemplar gender, timeframe, rank, and situational context affect perceptions of the story effectiveness.

Exemplars come from a variety of sources such as books, videos, and blogs, and include leaders in a range of levels and circumstances. Each exemplar can typically be reviewed in less than 10 minutes. The library could be used for individual self development or in the classroom.

An instructor can use the source reference material and a briefing format that provides a summary of the exemplar situation, challenge, leader actions, and outcomes to improve the understanding of the story.

Recently, an evaluation of 25 of these exemplars was completed with 67 combat arms soldiers to determine the perceived effectiveness of, relevancy of, and level of interest in, each exemplar. The analysis included an examination of how effectiveness was related to the following exemplar characteristics:

* gender of the leader featured in the exemplar

* timeframe in which the exemplar takes place (before 2000 and after 2000)

* rank of the leader (for example, company grade, field grade, or none)

* operational context (deployed, garrison, or civilian). …

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Learning by Example: Effective Use of Stories in Army Leadership Training Is Dependent on Context
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