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Leadership education -- it's not a scam

9/4/2014

Have you ever wanted to make a strategic change in your company? Have you wanted to motivate people to raise awareness for a cause? Have you yearned for policy change in your city? If so, you might have grappled with just how to go about those changes? My answer is by exercising leadership -- difficult, yet rewarding work.

Have you ever wanted to make a strategic change in your company? Have you wanted to motivate people to raise awareness for a cause? Have you yearned for policy change in your city? If so, you might have grappled with just how to go about those changes? My answer is by exercising leadership -- difficult, yet rewarding work.

As indicated by John Schrock, a biology professor from Emporia State University, in his column last week, many higher-education institutions are implementing leadership programs at an extraordinary rate. Is it a scam, as his writing pointed out last week? Not in the least bit. As chairwoman of the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University, let me take this opportunity to share about leadership programs in higher education and how students are applying their learning to multiple contexts. Research shows employers are seeking employees with the ability to communicate, work in teams, think critically and solve problems. It is the role of higher education institutions to give students opportunities to develop these skills, which they can incorporate in many aspects of their lives.

The number of leadership programs across the country has been ubiquitous, with more than 1,000 programs focusing on training, development and education. These programs range from certificate programs to minors, to even bachelor's degrees in organizational leadership. Just as any discipline, research, theory and practice are foundational to the study and teaching of leadership studies. Two large leadership programs in Kansas are housed at FHSU and Kansas State University. At these two institutions, students are studying and learning leadership as a process, not as a position or as a program for only the "best." Leadership studies faculty members in these two outcomes-based programs are dedicated to providing students with a comprehensive interdisciplinary educational experience that is based on both classroom theory and the practical application of leadership knowledge, skills and behaviors.

The discipline of leadership studies, as it is taught at K-State and Fort Hays, is based on a definition of what constitutes leadership, best articulated by Joseph C. Rost (1991): "Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes." Leadership studies provides a specialized educational environment, including coursework, internships and service-learning activities that enhance the life experiences and strong undergraduate education that play a critical role in leadership development.  

The mission of the School of Leadership Studies at K-State is developing knowledgeable, ethical, caring, inclusive leaders for a diverse and changing world. The mission of the FHSU program is to educate and nurture citizens to lead our organizations, communities, state, nation and beyond.

Key foundational elements for leadership programs are as follows:

* Need for leadership -- With the complex problems and challenges of our changing world, the need for leadership is great.

* Teaching leadership -- Leadership can be taught. It is possible to develop and provide students with a learning environment that will foster critical leadership skills and capabilities.

* Leadership for all -- Leadership education is not just for a select few, but rather, all individuals can and should benefit from leadership education and development activities.

* Theoretical Foundation -- These academic programs are based on an extensive theoretical foundation in the field of Organizational Behavior and Leadership Studies.

Academic courses and additional learning opportunities at each institution give students opportunities to learn skills, capacities and processes that are transferable to multiple contexts. These contexts through which our students "do" leadership are numerous -- from non-profits to government to for-profit companies. Upon graduation, organizations do not hire our students to be the "leader," but to be effective organizational players through exercising the leadership "process" at many levels of the organization. Rigorous course-based and program assessment is conducted throughout the programs so as to ensure students are learning what we think they are learning. I mention only two academic leadership programs in Kansas; however, there are dozens more phenomenal programs throughout the United States that prepare students with similar pedagogical methods and content.

And this leadership process I mention above? What does it look like? Doing leadership is difficult. It is messy. It does not always feel good. It is challenging. It is rigorous. It is not necessarily about being the boss or administrator. It is about creating change through a process at multiple levels of an organization. It is not about making the most money. This leadership process is taught not out of books that are written by "highly rich people," but scholars and practitioners that have conducted years of quantitative and qualitative research. These texts are rich with case studies, theory and practical applications -- all which connect to student learning.

I invite you to visit the FHSU Department of Leadership Studies or any other collegiate academic leadership program to learn more about the programs. The revolutionary growth of leadership programs is not for recruitment, but because leadership programs are providing students an opportunity to learn skills and capabilities that they can use not only throughout their career, but their neighborhoods, communities and homes. We don't attempt to produce "leaders," but people who can mobilize others and enact change in many aspects of their lives.

This growth in leadership programs is not a scam. It is reality. It is what is needed in our schools, communities, companies, neighborhoods and beyond. Maybe, just maybe, what our world needs is more leadership.

Jill Arensdorf is chairwoman and associate professor of the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University.

jrarensdorf@fhsu.edu

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