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In two parts this paper examines how leadership is understood, taught, and anticipated to be learned in undergraduate, graduate, and executive education programs. Part 1 introduces the challenges of defining leadership then presents three taxonomies or themes representing the prevailing leadership models, theories, and practices. I then introduce a fourth theme derived from a broader understanding of context, particularly differences between challenges that are complicated and complex. This informs an expanded context-definition of leadership for which examples of leadership characteristics and proficiencies from a complex systems perspective are presented.

Part 2 is presented as a separate essay. It discusses the assumptions, expectations and relationships among learners, instructors, context, and content from which teaching and learning approaches have emerged. Pedagogy is most common, andragogy is increasingly appropriate for the changing demographics of higher education, and heutagogy is urged for adult learners in higher levels, particularly doctoral and applied executive leadership learning programs. I then describe leadership curricula and using a woven strands metaphor I propose courses appropriate for undergraduate, master, and doctoral leadership programs.

I conclude that integrating the four themes, three teaching and learning approaches, and suggested courses co-produce enhanced understanding of the complex topic of leadership. I also conclude that higher education institutions must understand if they wish to teach about leadership or enable participants to learn and develop competencies and proficiencies of leadership before they promote the effectiveness of their face-to-face, virtual/digital, and hybrid delivery channels.


In this first essay, I review arguments about the nature and importance of leadership. I then summarize three prevailing taxonomies or influence themes from which are derived most leadership models and theories. These themes primarily focus on traits, styles, skills, and behaviors the last three of which are commonly presented as competencies. As suggested by Morrill (2007[i]) these themes concern (1) indirect patterns of influence, (2) direct patterns of influence, and (3) patterns of relationships also referred to as relational leadership.

[i] Morrill, R. L. 200). Strategic leadership: Integrating strategy and leadership in colleges and universities. In partnership with American Council on Education. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.