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A New Leader for Leadership: Q&A with Dave Newell

Dave Newelll standing in front of ChambersIndividuals don't just develop into leaders by way of their experiences -- instead, leadership development requires a thoughtful, purposeful approach, said Dave Newell, director of the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development. 

At Davidson, Newell said, leadership is an integral part of a rich college experience in which students gain broad, transferable skills, such as communicating, tackling complex problems, analyzing complicated data and making decisions with imperfect information.

The Chidsey Center for Leadership Development prepares Davidson students to exercise leadership in ways that positively affect the campus and broader community. The Center offers programs and services designed to help students become more self-aware; enable students and community organizations to maximize the impact of their work; and encourage courageous leadership in a constantly changing environment.

Newell, who came to his new position in December, previously served as the director for leadership and community-based service at Gustavus Adolphus College. He is founder and lead consultant for Evolve Consulting and a facilitator and steward for the Art of Participatory Leadership. 

Here he answers a few questions on the topic of leadership.

What is leadership?
Leadership is about the choices we make and the actions we take, every moment, all the time. Are we paying attention? When we're alone? When we're with other people? It involves knowing who you are and what you're good at, and especially how you conduct yourself in relation to other people.

How do you approach leadership with college students?
Students are asked, "Who are you? What are you good at?" It's complicated. I try to break it down into moments. Who are you in class? Who are you in the Union? How do you conduct yourself during an internship or a class project? It's useful to think about a collection of moments or stories to form a leadership narrative. I approach things with questions, so I ask first what it would take for the student to lead from where they are, as sort of a design model. Then, we look at how those insights can be applied.

How do you balance theory and practice?
There is theory, there is practice and there is reflection. John Dewey said we don't learn by doing, we learn by thinking about what we're doing. I always add the caveat that if you're not doing anything, you're not going to learn much. The Chidsey Fellows Program provides platforms for a total of 56 sophomores, juniors and seniors to act and then reflect on their own leadership, so that when they graduate, they are prepared to walk into an organization and make a difference. And for the speaker series, we choose speakers who can help today's students learn how to approach the hard stuff, to face trouble. Those are the people who rise up.

Has communications technology affected leadership skills?
New technologies add an element to the relational aspect. I see a stronger fear of conflict... students stay connected to each other, but their connections are often shallow. The best perspective on technology is to view it as a tactic, and not a strategy. It's a means to an end.

Why study leadership as a discrete topic?
We are asking students to apply the principles of leadership in the classroom, with their peer groups and in their everyday moments. As a sort of clearinghouse for leadership resources and activities, we [the Chidsey Center] help them make applying those principles habitual; by being supported in these habits, they become conscious of good leadership in their everyday lives.

John Syme
josyme@davidson.edu
704-894-2523