Carnegie Mellon University
February 17, 2022

Seminar Gives Students a Leg Up on Leadership

By Bruce Gerson

Nature vs. nurture. When it comes to molding effective leaders, it takes a little bit of both, says Michael Murphy, creator of a popular seminar that asks students to step up, lean in and dig deep to unleash their leadership abilities from within. 

“I often tell my students that I don’t know if you can teach leadership, but I think you can learn it,” said Murphy, who created the Leadership Development Seminar in the College of Engineering about four years ago at the urging of Provost Jim Garrett, then dean of the college. “I see it as more of an awakening of someone’s self-confidence and bringing themselves fully to the table. Everyone has it, but you have to nurture it.” 

Murphy knows a thing or two about leadership. The distinguished service professor and executive director of the Center for Leadership Studies was dean of Students Affairs at CMU from 1990-2005. He was vice president for Campus Affairs from 2008-2016, and recently senior advisor to the deans in the College of Engineering and Heinz College. Murphy was a recipient of CMU’s Doherty Award for Sustained Contributions to Excellence in Education. 

“I have learned so much from people who have worked for me and with me, and who have been honest with me. That’s an important part of my evolution,” he said. “Jared Cohon (CMU president emeritus), one of the great leaders of all time, has been incredibly influential in the development of the course.” 

The Leadership Development Seminar, which has expanded from the College of Engineering into the Dietrich College, builds on the foundation of six pillars of leadership: visionary, ethical, engaging, tactical, technical and reflective. The course structure includes a rich array of activities, including class discussions; readings, videos and podcasts; weekly reflective journaling; experiential opportunities, such as interviewing people they admire, and attending lectures on campus; one-on-one meetings; and many guest speakers from industry, government, higher education, and even Hollywood.

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