Imagine a newborn with muscles the size of a professional bodybuilder. Hard (and a little disturbing) to imagine, right? Just as babies are not born with well-developed physical capabilities, they also are not hardwired with all of the skills needed to be good leaders. Rather, people develop the skills, starting in childhood, that result in them becoming effective leaders. Educational institutions recognize how important leadership skills are for students’ long-term success at work and in life and that like many skills such as math and writing, it is important for people to begin developing and practicing those skills as early as possible.

As a result, the number of leadership programs in educational settings — particularly college campuses — is increasing.  Some forward-thinking institutions that CCL is working with are moving away from supplemental leadership programs, and instead are striving to build leadership development into the very fabric of the college experience. For instance, at Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering, in addition to formal, stand-alone “leadership programs,” faculty in a first-year engineering course integrate leadership lessons and insights into team-based robot design engineering projects.

While there is broad-based recognition of the importance of helping students develop their leadership capabilities, there is limited empirical research regarding young peoples’ beliefs about leadership. Do students believe leadership is something that can be learned? Do they believe they can be leaders, even at their young age? Finally, what do students think effective leaders do?


Published: February 2014

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