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College Quarterly
Fall 1995 - Volume 3 Number 1
General Education and Leadership
by Lucy D'Arcangelo

Contemporary emphasis upon competition and organizational renewal places leadership skills in high demand, not only among the top levels of management in large corporations-both public and private-but also in small businesses where innovation and a highly motivated workforce are essential to success. The role of general education in promoting leadership skills across vocational programs is crucial. Following is an inventory of leadership qualities which can be enhanced through a well-designed general education program and which can, in turn, enhance individual achievement upon graduation.

First, there is the need for the integrity to base decisions on sound moral principles and the gumption to act on them. Economic restraint and the heightened public scepticism about both government and business practice have moved “the discussion of ethics onto centre stage in the 1990s” (McIntyre, 1991, p.32).

Second, and possibly as a result of a higher demand for ethical behaviour, the issue of quality has gained unprecedented importance in our society. Relating personal standards to professional standards promotes “living the quality message” and believing that “anything can be made better, that beauty is universally achievable-in the collection of garbage … in the raising of chickens and the making of potato chips … in the design of a retail store or a piece of software or the bypass air intake mechanism of a jet engine.” (Peters and Austin, 1985, pp.98-99)

Third, excellent leaders appreciate quality and encourage it in others. Roueche and Baker found that, while leaders have high expectations of themselves and others, they are also extremely supportive of people, possess warm interpersonal skills and motivate others by nurturing self-respect. As one executive put it: “I attempt to build self-respect in people by precisely and intentionally reinforcing their assets and by never criticizing their personhood-only, and then rarely, their work.” (Roueche and Baker, 1987, p.137)

Fourth, nurturing promotes improvement but it must sometimes be supported by the courage to be firm. Political scientist James MacGregor Burns (1978) coined the term “transactional leadership” to capture the process of “building coalitions … altering agendas … building a loyal team at the top that speaks with one voice … listening carefully … frequently speaking with encouragement … reinforcing words with believable action … being tough when necessary, and (risking the) occasional use of naked power.” (Peters & Waterman, 1982, p.82)

Fifth, improvement must not be merely quantitative. Burns (1978) also identified the “transforming” leader, which Peters and Waterman (1982, pp. 82-83) describe as having a much tougher job than the transactional leader. Transforming leadership, they say, “builds on man's need for meaning,” it “creates institutional purpose.” So, the transforming leader becomes “the true artist, the true pathfinder … both calling forth and exemplifying the urge for transcendence that unites us all.” Transforming leaders are concerned with elevating their followers to the very values upon which rest the classics of general education, the contemplation of truth.

Sixth, leaders must sometimes be the champions of the apparently irrational. Leaders must recognize that the marginal idea of today may be the triumphant innovation of tomorrow and must be prepared to support the enthusiasm of those whose imaginations are at the root of entrepreneurship. True, most new ideas do not work out. So why, asked D.W. Ewing (1977, p.74) should this so-called champion “get so enthusiastic about innovative ideas which yield only a ten percent success rate?” The answer: “‘Lovers and madmen,’ Shakespeare wrote, 'have such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends.'” The exceptional administrator is the one with enough vision to see the talent of the innovator and enough cool reason to comprehend how that talent might take advantage of or even create future trends.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, today's leader must understand and be committed to the empowerment of others. Our team-oriented workplaces and an emerging democratic definition of leadership require what Amitai Etzioni called increasingly “humble decision making.” Leaders, he continues, must “proceed with only partial information, which, moreover, they have had no time to fully process or analyze” in a world wherein “half the choices you make every day are, in theory, impossibly complex.” (Etzioni, 1989, pp. 122-123). By empowering others, leaders necessarily foster rather than limit autonomy, encourage rather than contain self-expression, and draw all members of their organizations to make rather than avoid a personal commitment to such an inspiring vision of greatness that it beckons the members to make it a reality.


Burns, J. (1978). Leadership. (New York: Harper & Row).

Etzioni, A. (1989). Humble Decision Making, Harvard Review (July - August), pp. 122-126.

Ewing, D., (1977) Discovering Your Problem-Solving Style, Psychology Today, pp. 69-74.

McIntyre, J. (1991). The Good, The Bad, and The Ethical, in NACUBO, Vol. 25, No. 5, Washington, D.C.: The National Association of College Business Officers.

Peters, T., & Austin, N. (1985). A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference. New York: Random House.

Peters, T., & Waterman R. (1982). In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies. (New York: Harper & Row.

Roueche, J. & Baker, G. (1987). Access and Excellence (Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community Colleges.

Lucy D'Arcangelo teaches at the George Brown College in Toronto.