How can universities cultivate leaders of character? Insights from a leadership and character development program at the University of Oxford
Universities have long played an important role in preparing thinkers and leaders who go on to have significant impact around the world. But if the world needs wise thinkers and good leaders, then how might modern universities educate leaders of character, particularly in a pluralistic context where many educators are reluctant to see the university as a site of moral formation? This article shares insights from one specific program, the Oxford Global Leadership Initiative, an extra-curricular program that seeks to help diverse cohorts of graduate students develop the ethical qualities of character needed for leaders to serve the common good. Drawing upon qualitative data collected over three years of program activity to illuminate and illustrate our argument, we address three questions: (1) Can virtues of character necessary for good leadership be cultivated in a university setting among a culturally diverse group of students? (2) How can a character-based leadership program meet the particular developmental needs of “emerging adults”? and (3) How might the program’s impact translate into society and culture? We conclude that a program integrating character and leadership can make valuable contributions to the ethical and professional development of postgraduate students.
KeywordsCharacter Leadership Virtue University Postgraduates Oxford Character Project
We are grateful to the Templeton World Charity Foundation for their generous support of the Oxford Character Project and to the staff, advisors, guest speakers, mentors, and participants who have contributed to the Oxford Global Leadership Initiative since its inception in 2014. For their contribution to the program, we owe particular thanks to Anjie Anderson, Liubov Brooks, Kate Seagrave, Claire Shuttleworth, Julianne Viola, Luna Wang, and Bethan Willis. For careful research assistance, we are grateful to Cameron Silverglate. For helpful feedback on ideas in this paper, we thank audiences at the Virtues in the Public Square Conference hosted by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Oriel College, Oxford (2018), and the inaugural conference of the North American Association for Philosophy and Education in Chicago (2018). We also appreciate support from the Oxford Pastorate, McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life at the University of Oxford, and Wake Forest University.
This publication was made possible through the support of a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
- Aristotle. 1999. Nicomachean ethics (2nd ed.; T. Irwin, Trans.). Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
- Arnett, J.J. 2000. Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychology 55 (5): 469–480.Google Scholar
- Arnett, J.J. 2013. The evidence for generation we and against generation me. Emerging Adulthood 1 (1): 5–10.Google Scholar
- Arnett, J.J. 2014. Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Arnett, J.J. 2019. Conceptual foundations of emerging adulthood. In Emerging adulthood and higher education: A new student development paradigm, ed. J.L. Murray and J.J. Arnett, 11-24. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Blavatnik School of Government. 2019. Homepage. https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk. Accessed 29 Apr 2019.
- Brant, J., M. Lamb, E. Burdett, and E. Brooks. 2019. Cultivating virtue in postgraduates: An empirical study of the Oxford Global Leadership Initiative. Manuscript submitted for publication. Google Scholar
- Brooks, D. 2015. The road to character. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
- Carr, D. 2017. Virtue and character in higher education. British Journal of Educational Studies 65 (1): 109–124.Google Scholar
- Doris, J. 1998. Persons, situations, and virtue ethics. Nous 32 (4): 504–530.Google Scholar
- Dugan, J.P., and S.R. Komives. 2011. Leadership theories. In The handbook for student leadership development, ed. S.R. Komives, J.P. Dugan, J.E. Owen, C. Slack, and W. Wagner, 2nd ed., 35-58. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Dweck, C. 2017. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. 2nd ed. Robinson: London.Google Scholar
- Edelman Intelligence. 2017. 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer: Global Report. https://www.slideshare.net/EdelmanInsights/2017-edelman-trust-barometer-global-results-71035413. Accessed 05 Mar 2019.
- Engbers, T.A. 2006. Student leadership programming model revisited. Journal of Leadership Education 5 (3): 1–14.Google Scholar
- Ferguson, N. 2017. The square and the tower: Networks, hierarchies and the struggle for global power. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
- Grint, K. 2010. Leadership: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Haeffel, G., and G. Howard. 2010. Self-report: Psychology’s four-letter word. The American Journal of Psychology 123 (2): 181–188.Google Scholar
- Harman, G. 1999. Moral philosophy meets social psychology: Virtue ethics and the fundamental attribution error. Proceedings from the Aristotelian Society 99: 315–331.Google Scholar
- Harvard University. 2019. About Harvard. https://www.harvard.edu/about-harvard. Accessed 29 Apr 2019.
- Haslam, S.A., S.D. Reicher, and M.J. Platow. 2011. The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence and power. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
- Higher Education Research Institute. 1996. A social change model of leadership development: Guidebook (Version III). College Park: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.Google Scholar
- Komives, S.R., and J.P. Dugan. 2010. Contemporary leadership theories. In Political and civic leadership: A reference handbook, ed. R.A. Couto, vol. 1, 111–120. Los Angeles: Sage.Google Scholar
- Komives, S.R., N. Lucas, and T.R. McMahon. 1998/2007. Exploring leadership: For college students who want to make a difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Komives, S.R., J.P. Dugan, J.E. Owen, C. Slack, and W. Wagner. 2011. The handbook for student leadership development. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Kruse, E., J. Chancellor, P.M. Ruberton, and S. Lyubomirsky. 2014. An upward spiral between gratitude and humility. Social Psychological and Personality Science 5 (7): 805–814.Google Scholar
- Lamb, M., J. Brant, and E. Brooks. 2019. How is virtue cultivated?: Seven strategies for postgraduate character development. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
- Lapsley, D., and S. Hardy. 2017. Identity formation and moral development in emerging adulthood. In Flourishing in emerging adulthood: Positive development during the third decade of life, ed. L.M. Padilla-Walker and J.L. Nelson, 14–39. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lewis, M. 2014. Occupational hazards of working on Wall Street. Bloomberg View. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2014-09-24/occupational-hazards-of-working-on-wall-street. Accessed 06 Mar 2019.
- Miller, C. 2013. Moral character: An empirical theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Miller, C. 2014. Character and moral psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Miller, C. 2018. The character gap: How good are we? New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Noftle, E.E. 2015. Character across early emerging adulthood: Character traits, character strivings, and moral self-attributes. In Character: New directions from philosophy, psychology, and theology, ed. C.B. Miller, R.M. Furr, A. Knobel, and W. Fleeson, 490–521. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Oxford English Dictionary. 2019. Leadership. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/106604?redirectedFrom=leadership#eid. Accessed 23 Apr 2019.
- Peking University. 2014. Yenching academy: Elite China experience for future global leaders. http://newsen.pku.edu.cn/News_Events/News/Focus/11335.htm. Accessed 29 Apr 2019.
- Roberts, D.C., ed. 1981. Student leadership programs in higher education. Illinois: Southern Illinois University/American College Personnel Association.Google Scholar
- Roberts, D.C., and C. Ullom. 1989. Student leadership program model. NASPA Journal 27 (1): 67–74.Google Scholar
- Samuels, S.M., and W.D. Casebeer. 2005. A social psychological view of morality: Why knowledge of situational influences on behaviour can improve character development practices. Journal of Moral Education 34 (1): 73–87.Google Scholar
- Schwartz, B., and K. Sharpe. 2010. Practical wisdom: The right way to do the right thing. New York: Riverhead.Google Scholar
- Snow, N.E. 2010. Virtue as social intelligence: An empirically grounded theory. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- The National Health Service [NHS]. 2014. Mental Health and Wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/556596/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf. Accessed 07 March 2019.
- Tilghman, S. 2009. Princeton commencement speech. Princeton Alumni Weekly. https://paw.princeton.edu/article/presidents-page-7. Accessed 29 Apr 2019.
- Twenge, J. 2013. The evidence for generation me against generation we. Emerging Adulthood 1 (1): 11–16.Google Scholar
- Twenge, J. 2014. Generation me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled—and more miserable than ever before. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
- World Economic Forum. 2014. Outlook on the global agenda 2015. http://reports.weforum.org/outlook-global-agenda-2015/wp-content/blogs.dir/59/mp/files/pages/files/outlook-2015-a4-downloadable.pdf. Accessed 05 Mar 2019.