Institute blasts leadership development in higher education

New book takes academia to task, provides evidence-based blueprint for training students to become future leaders

HOUSTON – (Jan. 19, 2020) – Colleges and universities claim to develop leaders, but according to Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders, the only evidence is found in recruiting materials and ad campaigns.

The institute has published what it calls an intervention: “Leadership Reckoning,” a book that provides an evidence-based blueprint for effective, measurable leader development. It is being sent to top colleges and universities around the country to encourage them to take leadership development seriously, according to authors Tom Kolditz, director of the Doerr Institute, Ryan Brown, the institute’s managing director for measurement, and award-winning author Libby Gill.

“‘Leadership Reckoning’ takes to task American colleges and universities for their haphazard, incoherent, evidence-free approaches to developing students as leaders and offers a principle-driven, outcome-oriented blueprint for how effective leader development can occur,” they wrote. “Higher education has both the opportunity and the responsibility to take leader development seriously and create the leaders we need. It’s high time that happens, and ‘Leadership Reckoning’ points the way.”

According to the book, what passes for leadership training today is “little more than a collection of titillating and mildly inspiring moments that we like to refer to as ‘leader-tainment’ – motivational speakers, field trips, afternoon teas with the dean and the occasional ropes course.”

The authors’ research found that people assume attending and graduating from college would naturally produce personal leadership growth. Yet on average, graduates exhibit virtually no measurable growth in leadership capacity without formal leadership training.

“At long last, the whistle has been blown: the gap between commercial claims of producing leaders and the actuality of effective leader development in higher education is large and problematic,” wrote Susan MacKenty Brady, CEO of the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership. “This is a promising, instructive book every educator needs to read if higher education is to take its rightful place in producing needed leaders for the future.”

The Doerr Institute was founded by Rice alumni John and Ann Doerr to elevate the practice of leadership development across Rice’s campus and at all top institutions. The institute believes leadership skills and training are not meant only for business students, the typical recipient on campuses.

The authors wrote: “It would be easy to go on about the crisis of trust in our nation’s institutions and leaders, lament its negative impact on our culture and debate how we got here. Yet at this juncture, the rear view is of little use; the question that’s more relevant is, what are we going to do now to boost trust in the next generation of leaders? Creating leaders who can address such trust deficits starts with our institutions of higher education.”


Courtesy of the Doerr Institute.

In a director’s statement to the Doerr Institute community after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Kolditz condemned “the multiple failures of ethical leadership that contributed to the violent attack” and shared a renewed enthusiasm for developing leaders who will promote social good and justice for all members of society.

“Take it from me, as someone who has worked in both government and business: leadership matters!” wrote former Vice President Al Gore in an endorsement of the book. “In the face of global challenges like the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for good leaders in every part of society has never been greater. In ‘Leadership Reckoning,’ the Doerr Institute for New Leaders pioneers a data-driven approach to make the development of moral leadership a core function of college education. This book is a must-read for the leaders of today and tomorrow.”

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