Skip to main content
Leavey School of Business Santa Clara University

Top Stories

Professor Sarah Cabral with students from new pilot course Foundations of Leadership

Professor Sarah Cabral with students from new pilot course Foundations of Leadership

Leavey Pilots New Foundational Leadership Course

Curriculum prepares students to harness influence ethically and thoughtfully throughout their careers

The new course, part of a broader initiative, is aimed at empowering first-year students to develop their leadership skills ethically and thoughtfully. Through this innovative curriculum, students learn the art of ethical influence and self-awareness, setting the stage for a successful academic and professional journey.
Professor Sarah Cabral with students from new pilot course Foundations of Leadership

When Kaya Nagasaki Schubert was a first-year student, she felt confused much of the time. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, what major I should be,” she says. But even deeper than those educational concerns, “I was trying to figure out who I am.”

Schubert, now a junior, describes her younger self as shy. She was far from outspoken and had a hard time at first meeting and talking with new people — a common challenge for students in a new environment. Through her coursework, volunteerism and mentorship from faculty, Schubert found her own leadership style at the Leavey School of Business. Now Schubert is sharing her journey as a peer adviser, as the president of a student organization, and as a mentor in the brand-new pilot course for first-year students, “Foundations of Leadership.”

Part of a strategic initiative for the Leavey School of Business under Dean Ed Grier — the new Foundations of Leadership course is geared towards helping students like Schubert get a jump on their leadership journeys.  “I think having that course and having the reflection part of it, having the time and space to think about who I am and the values and the type of leader that I want to become, would have really helped me in my first year,” Shubert says.

Course designer and Dean’s Executive Professor Sarah Cabral agrees. Leadership is not just the domain of upper-level courses or training for managers. “We often associate leadership with a formal position that you hold,” she says. “But in fact, it's about the influence that you have on other people.”

The idea behind the pilot is to teach aspects of ethical, thoughtful and innovative leadership throughout a student’s education — starting right from the beginning. 

Leavey’s Roots in Leadership

Professor Sarah Cabral teaching new pilot course Foundations of Leadership

Cabral’s pilot course builds on a long tradition of leadership studies at Leavey, with the most prominent example being The Leadership Challenge, a formative book and series of informative tools created by Professor Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes.

Their student-geared offshoot, The Student Leadership Challenge, is part of the new course’s curriculum. Cabral points out how valuable its assessment tools are and how much it fits her own philosophy. “They say that leadership is everyone's business, that we all have the capacity to learn about the behaviors that make exemplary leaders and then practice them to improve our leadership capabilities,” she says.

In the new foundational course, students do indeed practice — via case studies and scenarios rooted in everyday situations a person in college may encounter. They might discuss, say, what happens when a student lives in a suite with multiple other students. They all want a clean place to live, but nobody’s doing the work. How can one of the students step up and take a leadership role without alienating friends and peers? That’s a much more relatable scenario to a freshman than, say, a C-Suite case study.

Lively discussions about “what would you do in this situation” are complemented by a deep well of reading material, from Posner and Kouzes to Brene Brown to Robert Kelly. 

“One of the main goals I have for students who take ‘Foundations of Leadership’ is that they understand the most important capability of successful leaders is self awareness,” she says. “This understanding of your own personality, of your own skills, of your values, of your interpersonal communication style, that all of these things will actually allow you to become an exemplary leader.”

Focusing on self-awareness first is key, Cabral says, and it fits within the Jesuit definition of leadership. Everything else follows from that. If a student recognizes that they tend to be passive in group discussions, they can work to become more outspoken. On the other hand, if they tend to dominate conversations, they can work on actively listening. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing personal strengths to make the most of them, and becoming aware of weaknesses to improve them.

It’s also key for students to understand that there are different types of leadership, Schubert says. “Not everyone is going to be that CEO-type of leadership,” she says. “But there are skills that you can definitely reflect and also hone in and practice so that your natural leadership is shown.”

Student focusing on work from new pilot course Foundations of Leadership

Leadership occurs in many places, from your friend group to a sports team to your community. Will Capodanno, a first-year student participating in the pilot course, finds himself reflecting back on his time as a high school soccer team captain as he absorbs the lessons learned in class.

“I always felt like there was room for improvement,” he says. “Leadership is really something everybody needs. And this course is about finding leadership within yourself.”

Consider Capodanno a convert. If the pilot is successful and more courses are developed in the future for each year of college education, he’d love to take part. “Having this for one year or one quarter is helpful,” he says, “but it’s really something you need to be reminded of every year.”

Beyond the Pilot

Students in new pilot course Foundations of Leadership

Providing an educational throughline is the goal of the Leadership Program Advisory Group composed of Professor Barry Posner and a dozen other Leavey School faculty and staff and representatives from Santa Clara's centers of excellence, and they are following a rigorous approval process to do so.

If the pilot course proves successful, Leavey will develop a follow-up pilot for second-year students, and so on. Each course will build on what happens in the others.

“If you really want to say you're developing students,” she says, “you have to have leadership development integrated throughout the four years.”

Cabral and others are thinking beyond just business school students, as well, and examining possibilities to expand leadership courses to all Santa Clara University students. Given the school’s strategic focus on leadership, they are thinking beyond coursework, too. 

“This school has the vision, and the expertise, to take this idea of teaching and researching leadership and turn it into a real focus,” Cabral says.

LSB, Top Home, News & Events Home, LSB Newsroom Lead, Undergraduate Business