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Duke on Leadership Education

Can you teach someone to be a leader?

By David Jarmul

A growing number of programs across the Duke community say yes. They are asking students to ponder what leadership requires, then challenging them to apply their new insights and skills. The students may find themselves balancing on logs, leading research projects or flying to remote parts of the world to provide health care.

Duke Today highlights some of these programs here, ranging from undergraduates classes at Duke’s main campus in Durham to Duke-affiliated programs for medical students in Singapore or corporate executives worldwide. Other Duke programs promote leadership for future military officers, religious leaders or community activists. Many of the groups participate in a campus-wide leadership educators collaborative.

Read on and see where it all leads.

The Duke Athletics Leadership Program develops the leadership skills of student-athletes, coaches and athletic department administrators.

Students from different Duke teams work to stay atop a swinging log. The exercise forces them to work together in groups and learn to solve problems by actively communicating, encouraging one another and trusting each other’s perspectives. It’s part of an outdoor leadership experience for sophomores, one of a number of leadership development programs Duke provides for its student-athletes.

“We have found that leadership comes in many forms and faces and as such can be taught explicitly to assist students in quickly utilizing the leadership skills they have when presented naturally in real-life settings,” says Greg Dale, a professor of sport psychology and sport ethics who runs the program with several Duke colleagues.

The Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy challenges students to practice the “art of leadership” for public life.

Meghan Scanlon, a Duke junior from Missouri, presents her “adaptive analysis” of an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Students in this class on “Framing the Adaptive Challenge/Rocking the Boat” read and debate case studies of contentious policy issues, diagnosing the best ways to intervene. The class is part of a capstone course in Service Opportunities in Leadership, a year-long component of the Hart Leadership Program.

“Leadership can and should be taught deliberately to help students see the messy, systemic problems that permeate our world and figure out how to intervene,” says Alma Blount, the program’s co-director. “They have to read contexts, work with conflict, diagnose group dynamics and improvise. We want them to ask tough questions so they can help us face difficult challenges and thrive.”

The Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore develops students into physician leaders.

Kenneth Chin and Toh Liying, two medical students at Duke-NUS, see patients at a clinic they helped establish for members of the Karen hill tribe in northern Thailand. They and their classmates work with faculty mentors and local partners to serve the community, learning not only about medicine but also how to lead and manage effectively in challenging settings. The school weaves such real-world experiences into its formal curriculum to help students develop leadership attributes of service, collaboration and resilience.

“Physicians are uniquely positioned to advocate for patients and their health care team,” says Arpana R. Vidyarthi, M.D., who directs the school’s leadership programs. “Although many enter medical school with some leadership skills, their training needs to help them expand their skills and competencies beyond what ‘comes naturally.’ This kind of leadership training should be an explicit goal of medical education.”

The Coach K Leadership & Ethics Center of the Fuqua School of Business empowers leaders to “address evolving societal challenges.”

Incoming daytime MBA students at Fuqua learn the power of collaborative leadership as they help each other climb a 10-foot wall. The one-week course on “consequential leadership” introduces them to the center’s blend of learning experiences both in and out of classrooms. The center collaborates across Duke and beyond to offer programs for undergraduates, scholars and executives from business, government and nonprofits.

“Leadership today is based more on influence than on someone’s position or title, and it needs to be taught explicitly,” says Sanyin Siang, the center’s executive director. “Technical expertise is important, of course, but so are wisdom, resilience and the abilities to foster collaborations, translate, communicate and build relationships across disciplines, sectors, formal and informal lines. Students who possess leadership capabilities along with their technical expertise will have significant competitive advantages and be better positioned to put their knowledge in service of society.”

The Baldwin Scholars Program “inspires and supports undergraduate women to become engaged, confident and connected leaders in the Duke community and beyond.”

Karina Santellano, left, a Duke junior from San Diego, leads a panel discussion on social unrest in Brazil. “The Baldwin Scholars program allowed me to see endless possibilities and learn that I can become who I want to be and do what I want to do,” says Santellano, the co-president of Duke’s Latino student association. “I’ve never felt so empowered to be the best leader, friend, sister, daughter, person I can be and do work that feeds my soul.”

Donna Lisker, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and the program’s founder and co-director, says, “We think of leadership training not as a skill set learned from books or courses, but as the combination of deep self-knowledge, identification of personal passions and outstanding mentoring from other women. Baldwin Scholars learn, with guidance, to identify their strengths, and to lead with authenticity from that center.”

The Center for Leadership Development and Social Action seeks to deepen students’ understanding and practice of leadership.

Lindsey Huth, center, a junior from Arizona, was among the participants in a 6-day “LeaderShape Institute” sponsored by the center, which is part of Duke Student Affairs. She and others met with campus and community leaders, explored their values and engaged in exercises designed to help them “live and lead with integrity and a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Huth says she “examined how I am living now and how that life corresponds with the future I want, not only for myself, but for the world we live in. I came back to Duke charged and changed.”

Deborah Hackney, the center’s associate director, says Huth’s reaction is common. “Leadership should be taught, particularly in the collegiate environment, to develop students’ character, collaboration skills and citizenship to produce change for a common good,” Hackney says. “Intentional leadership learning experiences at Duke engage students in the interplay of knowledge, reflection and practice. It does this over time and across multiple experiences.”

Pratt School of Engineering programs combine applied courses and workshops to develop future leaders of technology-based organizations.

Students in the Master of Engineering Management and Master of Engineering programs at Pratt work in teams to tackle complex technical and business problems. In the workshop shown here, they’re developing approaches to work with others who have different personality types and work styles. “We want them to learn to leverage diverse opinions and approaches to develop solutions that are better than anyone could reach alone,” says Brad Fox, Pratt’s associate dean for professional masters programs.

“Developing leadership skills requires not only an understanding of leadership principles and approaches but also opportunities for students to actually lead and receive feedback on their actions. Educational programs should provide students with both curricular and co-curricular opportunities to learn and practice leadership skills,” Fox says.

Duke Corporate Education provides custom learning and development services to help global clients address business challenges.

Senior executives from China’s national state-owned enterprises participate in a Duke CE leadership program to help transform their businesses. During sessions in Durham, Washington, D.C., and New York, the executives discussed ways to promote innovation, enhance strategic choices and use cross-cultural skills for decision-making. They also visited global companies and met with prominent educators and U.S. executives.

“Leadership is a practice that’s developed over time and applied in context,” says Pete Gerend, Duke CE’s regional managing director of North America. “It’s not an intellectual construct or a static set of explicit content. It happens best when done intentionally through meaningful and challenging experience and is accelerated when it includes personal reflection and honest feedback.”