A Philosophy We Can All Use

Having a central leadership philosophy helps all of us support students better. A team of professional staff called Leaership Advocates in the Division of Student Life have shaped a coherent apparoach to student leadership development. 

The Leadership Advocates work to ensure that no matter where a UO student interacts with the Division of Student Life—be it in the Rec Center, the EMU, the Holden Center, the Health Center, the Dean of Students’ Office, the Career Center, University Counseling and Testing Center, or University Housing—their leadership learning outcomes and personal growth are complementary with other experiences and informed by consistent, theory-based pedagogy and experiential learning.


All UO students see leadership development as life development, maintaining a life-long commitment to learning and community building.


1. Every student can articulate something they’ve learned about how to be an effective leader.
2. Every student is equipped with the appropriate tools to make meaning of their leadership development.
3. At the end of their first year, every student understands how to access leadership development resources.
4. Every student can articulate how they’ve applied their leadership on campus.
5. Every student can, after graduation, articulate how they’ve continued to apply leadership in their lives.

Division of Student Life Commitments

1. We embrace intentional, forward-thinking leadership development for every student.
2. We integrate this philosophy across a broad array of student experiences.
3. We model this philosophy in how we act.
4. We support this vision of student leadership development as a core purpose of the institution.

“A leader is not necessarily a person who holds some formal position of leadership or who is perceived as a leader by others. Rather, a leader is one who is able to affect positive change for the betterment of others, the community, and society. All people, in other words, are potential leaders. Moreover, the process of leadership cannot be described simply in terms of behavior of an individual; rather leadership involves collaborative relationships that lead to collective action grounded in the shared values of people who work together to affect positive change.” –Higher Education Research Institute

It is said that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are authors writing about it. . . and there are many of those. Leadership, like multiculturalism and a myriad of other critical concepts, is notoriously difficult to define. Good leadership is often greater than the sum of its parts, emergent from context and community. Rather than defining leadership, it is most useful to instead establish some boundary markers. The core assumptions offered below capture the spirit of what we believe good leadership to be in the 21st century. Still, while effectively defining leadership in a sentence may be a futile task, sometimes it can serve as a useful starting point. If you are looking for a place to start, try this: Leadership is the productive use of influence to enact positive change.

Core Assumptions of Leadership

1. Leadership can be developed by anyone. What does that mean?

  • Leadership is not innate or reserved for certain people; it can be studied, learned, and improved by anyone.
  • Multiple pedagogies are effective in advancing this learning.

2. Leadership is strengthened through daily work and reflective practices. What does that mean?

  • Leadership is a process, integrated in daily lifestyle, choices, behaviors, identities, and values.
  • Leadership simultaneously nurtures reflective introspection and our ability to see ourselves in broader systems.
  • The practice of leadership requires vulnerability, mindfulness, and courage.

3. Leadership is collaborative and can be found anywhere. What does that mean?

  • Leadership is not automatically positional or hierarchical—it applies to anyone invested in their communities.
  • Leadership is shared; its effectiveness is grounded in the collective.
  • Leadership strives towards connectivity, inclusivity, equity, and justice; it makes ‘we’ better.

4. Leadership is shared by culture, context, and place. What does that mean?

  • Leadership is culturally situated, socially constructed, and inherently interdisciplinary.
  • Leadership often requires the ability to hold multiple truths.

5. Leadership is challenging and complex. What does that mean?

  • Leadership emerges in everyday moments, but we seek it most when facing chaos.
  • Leadership must distinguish between technical problems (those we’ve encountered before, and for which we know an effective response) and adaptive challenges (those that are novel, ill-defined, span multiple boundaries, and for which the only effective response is to learn our way through them together).

Relevant Leadership Theories and Model Consistent with These Assumptions

Commonly used with undergraduate participants:

  • Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (Shankman, Allen & Haber-Curran)
  • The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner)
  • Relational Leadership Model (Komives, Lucas & McMahon)
  • Servant Leadership (Greenleaf)
  • Social Change Model (HERI)
  • Transformational Leadership (Burns, et al.)

Uncommonly used with undergraduate participants:

  • Adaptive Leadership (Heifetz, et al.)
  • Connective Leadership (Lipman-Blument)
  • Deep Systems Leadership Model (Satterwhite)
  • Systems Citizenship (Senge, et al.)
  • Theory U (Scharmer, et al.)

Fundamental Pathways for Leadership Development and Education

Understanding leadership

  • An overview of how leadership has been perceived differently over the years and in differing contexts; why modern realities call for new approaches to leadership.

Understanding yourself and others

  • And exploration of strengths, values, and ways of being in relation to others, as well as a discussion of the importance of ethics, character, integrity, and cultural fluency.

Understanding groups and organizations

  • A discussion of group development and group processes and the complexity of leadership in organizations that are made up of many intersecting groups.

Understanding the nature of change and the principle of thriving together

  • An exploration of the processes of change and how change in influenced; how leaders can work together in ways that utilize strengths and promote wellbeing for all; how to nurture and develop persistence of resilience.
  1. Important to note for programming: Leader development may be thought of as focusing on the individual and their effective and ethical use of power in communities. Leadership development may be thought of as focusing on building the leadership capacity of communities and organizations. Both are important.
  2. Adapted from Exploring Leadership: For college students who want to make a difference by Komives, Lucas & McMahon.