Teaching leadership

Leadership development as a critical component of an MBA education is a given. What the University’s new Associate Vice President for Leadership Development Evelyn Williams envisions is a program designed to develop leadership skills much earlier — when students first arrive on campus as undergraduates.

Williams, who joined Wake Forest’s Office of Personal and Career Development July 1, has developed and led innovative and formative leadership programs at both Stanford University and the University of Chicago.

As a professor of practice, Williams will also have a role in the Schools of Business and the medical school, but she says the development of an undergraduate leadership curriculum and programming is the part of her new position that is most exciting. “Our leadership curriculum will reach well beyond the business school niche. We’ll be developing a strategy for and around the undergraduate liberal arts student experience.”

Williams sees Wake Forest as uniquely positioned to engage “master craftsmen and craftswomen,” such as faculty, administration, staff, parents, alumni and members of the local community to teach students how to build and flex their leadership muscles.

“No matter what discipline a student chooses to study, a stand-out employee, entrepreneur, grad student or military recruit possess three key skills,” Williams says. “He or she must know how to motivate others, influence outcomes and build and maintain relationships to be a leader in their field. They must be aware of their impact on others and how to manage themselves in challenging interpersonal situations.”

As an English major, Williams champions the liberal arts education as the foundation on which great leaders are built.

“For example,” says Williams, “organizations rely on students with liberal arts backgrounds who look at challenges and change through a variety of lenses. When asked to improve team building in an organization, an employee who has studied anthropology may use ethnographic skills to understand the corporate ‘tribe’ by interviewing members of the community to learn about the workplace culture. Or use lessons from sociology on group dynamics to find ways to team-build. Another approach might be researching the history of the industry for what has and hasn’t worked in the past. A liberal arts education is a powerful tool for its broad scope, and the curriculum must also teach students how to translate and transfer classroom skills to real world situations.”

Preparing students for life after college is increasingly critical as young people need to know how to negotiate change and adapt their knowledge to new situations. “Many twenty-somethings spend the early part of their post-graduate lives trying to figure out how they can use their classroom learning in the real world. Our plan is to help Wake Forest students build leadership skills throughout the four-year student cycle so when a graduate moves into the work world or graduate school it will be a seamless transition.”

“Wake Forest University is emerging as a national leader in educating the whole person and equipping students to lead lives with purpose and meaning,” says Vice President for Personal and Career Development Andy Chan. “Attracting and hiring a proven innovator like Evelyn Williams demonstrates the University’s unique position in higher education and its commitment to this bold vision.”

At Stanford, Williams founded and taught the Leadership Laboratories curriculum, the Leadership Fellows Program, the Executive Challenge competition and was associate director of the Center for Leadership Development and Research. She was faculty chair of the Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) program and taught leadership coursework at the University of Chicago from 2000-2006.  Her research focuses on leadership, team dynamics, interpersonal dynamics, curriculum design, organizational behavior and management communication.

Prior to her university teaching experience, Williams spent more than 15 years in a series of executive and leadership development positions within Fortune 500 firms. She designed and implemented leadership and management development programs for executives in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Williams holds a BA in English from the University of California at Los Angeles and an MA in education from the University of Chicago.

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