“The end of all industry is the production of human beings of a finer quality, and unless this end is realized and achieved, no measure, however great, of material success, can redeem it from failure. It is the task of our institutions of higher learning to train leaders who will have the vision and the power to direct this great transformation.” -Frank Aydelotte, the President of Swarthmore College, 1921
The idea of leadership as a central outcome of higher education is an old one–dating back to the ancient Greek Philosopher Plato’s most famous book, The Republic. The way the term is used today, however, is a little different than it was in times past.
The traditional concept of leadership held that leaders were those who could find the best situation in a given circumstance, and communicate that vision to others so that they would lend their time and energy to the effort to make the vision a reality. In short, leaders were those who could reason abstractly, and communicate their reasoning to others.
The traditional ‘liberal arts’ were designed around this idea: students study rhetoric and logic, not political science and public policy.
Today, the concept is more diaphanous meaning–one can be a ‘leader in the field’, meaning that person is widely seen as doing excellent work, or a ‘servant leader’, who leads by ensuring that their ‘followers’ have what they need to succeed.
What unites all of these concepts is the idea that the purpose of education is to create individuals who will lead society in the future — whatever form that society takes.