Storytelling for Leadership Development


The Little Buddy outline (blank and filled) that every student received in the first class. Courtesy Tess Hobson, Mac Benavides, and Aliah Mestrovich Seay. “Transformative Leadership Education Using Arts-Based Storytelling.”

In 2019, leadership educators Tess Hobson, Mac Benavides, and Aliah Mestrovich Seay from Kansas State University used a drawing and storytelling exercise with their class of students to develop leadership skills.

Called the ‘Little Buddy’ exercise, this arts-based learning tool was used during a semester-long, undergraduate-level leadership course in the Staley School of Leadership Studies. Students spent 10 minutes at the end of each lecture doing the Little Buddy exercise. They were given a page with a blank human-shaped drawing and told to fill the shape with their personal experiences and values that reflect on the content of that day’s lecture. The students were able to engage in critical reflexivity to consider how their lived experiences and social identities inform the way in which they practice leadership. The students did not merely write about their identities and experiences, but expressed them creatively through illustrations, short phrases, and symbols.

The leadership educators saw how the students grew over the semester through engaging in this creative exercise. Although the growth looked different for different students, there was a general improvement in how the students articulated and visually represented the most significant aspects of their cultural and leadership identity.

Although students did not always understand the transformative impact of the Little Buddy at the outset, with space and time to reflect deeply, this creative pedagogy can be an effective tool for encouraging students to integrate leadership into their sense of self. The professors who created this arts-based tool recognised that reflection was the key tool for leadership development, and reflections tend to be deeper if they come through artistic expression.

By employing an arts-based storytelling pedagogy, these professors could engage learners in the power of their lived experiences and situate learners’ experiences in the context of their social location.


Tess Hobson, Mac Benavides, and Aliah Mestrovich Seay. “Transformative Leadership Education Using Arts-Based Storytelling.” Journal of Leadership Education vol 19, no.3 (2020): 75-81. DOI: 10.12806/V19/I3/A3