A phenomenon sweeping college campuses is the teaching of courses in leadership. Once confined to business programs, the teaching of leadership as an academic subject is now being offered to students in all disciplines.
One institution that is ahead of curve, and from what I observed on a recent visit to deliver a keynote address, is the University of Central Oklahoma. Each year some 400 students receive leadership scholarships in recognition of their having demonstrated leadership in high school not just in academics but also in athletics, band, drama or community service.
Under the direction of President Roger Webb, UCO is providing leadership development opportunities that combine study with service. The leadership discipline at UCO is founded on three core principles that have relevance for leaders in all walks of life, and so let me share them with you.
Character. This is the foundation upon which leadership rests except there is no “rest” in leadership. Leaders are actively pushing their initiatives by working together with others, using their example to make good things happen. For the rest of us, it means we live character by treating others fairly, our organization respectfully, and our vendors honestly.
Civility. There is an old-fashioned sound to civility. It stems from the Greek and Roman respect for law as fundamental to creating a functional society. Without civility there is lawlessness. In the private sector, civility comes down to respect for colleagues. Disagree with individuals but resist the urge to impugn character. And today when our so much of our media celebrates bad behavior, civility gets short shrift and so implementing it is no easy task.
Community. Developing a better tomorrow is what community at UCO means. The university is partnering with five community colleges in a leadership studies consortium so that more students can participate. Many corporations that I know make community a priority, not simply in employee service programs to benefit social service agencies but also by seeking to hire from the community and also offering internships to worthy students. Community is not just giving back; it is about creating a better future.
What is most impressive to me about what is happening at UCO is the vibrancy that leadership studies program generates. This is a school that does not just talk values; it puts them into practice. Students are encouraged to take leadership positions in team activities and serve as role models to peers. They are also encouraged to take leadership positions in on and off-campus organizations. Furthermore, students are expected to engage in community service projects. For example, freshmen students in leadership must do a service project and make a video record of their effort. Their grade depends on their involvement.
UCO also benefits from the guidance of Roger Webb. A veteran of law enforcement and one-time head of the Commissioner of Public Safety, Webb has been president of UCO since 1997. Like a good cop who walks the beat, Webb is everywhere. Walking along side President Webb is akin to walking with a four-year old child who is distracted by everything around him. Only Webb’s not distracted; he’s chatting with students or staff, and engaging them in conversation.
Webb’s up close and personal manner translates well to the classroom where he helps teach the some of the classes in leadership. [Imagine: the president of the university teaching freshman!] In teaching Webb is able to transmit his passion for leadership as well as his challenge to the next generation of emerging leaders.
That’s the visible side of Webb’s leadership; as an administrator, Webb pushes UCO to create opportunities for students to hone their skills and talents to become productive citizens. Tall order, certainly, but UCO is finding ways to make leadership matter and in the process setting an example for other academic institutions to follow.
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com