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Leadership Defined

Leadership Defined At Clemson UniversityThe Introduction and Climate
A purpose of higher education is to prepare students to be responsible, productive and engaged citizens in an ever-changing society and workplace. In order to facilitate this education, the academy must answer the call from business and industry for the graduation of students able to flourish and lead in today’s dynamic workplace.

In the recent past, power and success were measured by the size of a company’s portfolio or real estate holdings. Today, however, technological, economic and political changes have combined to make human capital critical to the effectiveness and success of organizations (Lawler, 2001). This new era of human capital forces industrialists to critically analyze the universality of approaches developed during the industrial revolution with respect to the ways companies operate and employees are supervised; it forces academicians to explore new and innovative curriculum to educate and prepare students for this new era. Leadership curriculum is such an innovation.

Leadership Defined
Fleishman suggests that in the past 60 years countless classification systems have been developed in an attempt to define the dimensions of leadership (as cited in Northouse, 2007, p. 2). These systems have attempted to theoretically define the phenomena in order to give voice and meaning to its practical application. By extrapolating themes from the various systems, leadership theorist Robert Northouse identified four criteria as central to leadership: process orientation, influence, group context, and goal attainment (Northouse, 2007). Based on these components, as well as the vision and mission of the College of Education, College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, and the Division of Student Affairs Center for Student Involvement, the following statement is supported:

The process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal for the common good.

Ross asserts: “From these essential elements, we can see that leadership is an influence relationship wherein leaders and their collaborators (followers) influence one another about real changes [for the common good] that reflect their mutual purposes (as cited in Brungardt & Gould, 2001). Leadership is a dynamic process and its complexity mirrors the complex dynamics students will face on entering and leading today’s human capital workforce.

The Justification
The human capital era is the era of the knowledge worker. Knowledge workers, now the majority in the United States, are those workers who create knowledge as opposed to simply using it. Given this transition from knowledge users to knowledge creators, the role of organizational leaders must also change to address the needs and expectations of knowledge creators:

  • Post-industrial leaders must have the capacity to understand, navigate and affect change in an organizational culture. Cultural changes are often systemic changes. It is vital that leaders understand these dynamics and work within the prescribed values of the organization to facilitate change.
  • Post-industrial leaders must be able to make quick, informed and provocative decisions to stay competitive in the market place.
  • Post-industrial leaders must be able to communicate effectively with people from various cultures, backgrounds, systems of beliefs, and abilities; this requires an open mind and a trained ear.

Leadership can be taught, and more importantly can be learned. “Leadership education is the more formal and structured learning situations that seek to intervene by enhancing, altering, creating, or speeding-up the leadership development process” (Brungardt & Gould, 2001, p. 5). Indeed this acceleration is necessary if the academy is to answer the call of business and industry for the graduation of students ready and capable of leading in today’s global workplace.


  • Brungardt, C. & Gould, L. (2001). Making the case for leadership studies. Retrieved March 10, 2015 from
  • Lawler, E.E. (2001). The era of human capital has finally arrived. In W. Bennis, G. Spreitzer, & T. Cummings, The future of leadership: Today’s top leadership thinkers speak to tomorrow’s leaders (14-25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Northouse, P.G. (2007). Leadership: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
More Information

Kate McCulley Radford, M.Ed.
Associate Director for Student Leadership and Community Engagement
Campus Activities and Events
Division of Student Affairs
P: (864) 656-2535

Bill Havice, Ph.D., DTE
Professor, Educational Leadership (EOLD)
College of Education
P: (864) 656-7644