Training a New Generation of Leaders

By Welch, Reed L. | Journal of Leadership Studies, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Training a New Generation of Leaders


Welch, Reed L., Journal of Leadership Studies


Executive Summary

This article highlights the Eisenhower Leadership Development Program, an undergraduate course with a two-fold purpose: (1) to develop students' leadership skills and abilities, and (2) to foster in students a desire to use their leadership abilities to address the different problems that communities and society face. To accomplish this the course uses traditional classroom instruction, guest speakers, leadership games and activities, and, most notably, semester-long group projects. Through the group projects students apply the leadership skills they have learned in class to real world situations and become more conscious of the positive contributions they can make as leaders in their communities.

Training a New Generation of Leaders(1)

Most would agree that one of the purposes of higher education is to help develop an informed and responsible citizenry that is knowledgeable and understand the democratic system. As part of this education, however, not often enough do we stress the need for active participation in the system, the process of participating, and the leadership role and impact citizens can have. Indeed, people frequently identify societal problems and look to elected and appointed public officials for leadership in finding solutions. Yet leadership and the ability to address societal problems takes place at all levels by people "who are actively engaged in making a positive difference in society. A leader, in other words, is anyone -- regardless of formal position -- who serves as an effective social change agent, so in this sense every student ... is a potential leader" (Astin, 1997, p. 9).

Because every student "is a potential leader" who can work to create positive change in society, it is not enough to confine education to helping students become more knowledgeable about current issues or about how government works. Education should also encourage the development of skills and attitudes that will result in students becoming effective leaders in addressing societal and community problems. Indeed, Astin argues that the "`leadership development' challenge for higher education is to empower students, to help them develop those special talents and attitudes that will enable them to become effective social change agents" (Astin, 1997, p. 9).

What leadership education should include may vary depending on a person's concept of leadership and the purpose of the training. However, at the heart of leadership education, most would include the need to train students to grasp the problems and issues facing society, to develop analytical and problem-solving skills, to learn to communicate and work effectively as members of a team, to have experience working in groups, to learn to work with people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and academic disciplines, to learn to establish goals and motivate others to achieve those goals, and to know how to speak and write effectively (e.g.; Hersh, 1998; Hopkins and Hopkins, 1998; Brungardt, Gould, Moore, and Potts, 1997; Hashem, 1997; Reed, 1996; Conger 1992; Dertouzos, Lester, and Solow, 1989).

Most often leadership education takes place under the guise of training students to be productive workers and leaders in the workforce. Although preparing students for civic leadership may pose as being very different from training students for careers, the two are not as different as we sometimes think. Many of the characteristics that businesses and potential employers desire in their employees are the components that make up an effective leader in the community. Just as developing problem-solving and analytical skills, learning to work and communicate in groups of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and training, and knowing how to effectively write and speak are essential for students to succeed in their careers, these skills and experiences are also important in making students "effective social change agent [s]." What is needed, however, is for these skills and concepts to be taught in the context of being used to improve the community and society rather than as a means of obtaining a higher-paying job. …

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