Patricia O'Connell, PhD, Associate Professor of Business and Leadership, has devoted the past two years to creating a universal leader development model. This quest has taken her from the USA to Italy, France and Hungary.

Throughout the process, Dr. O'Connell sought to "explore the emerging integrated definitions of leadership suggested for use in the 21st century and the related needs for leader development."

Dr. O'ConnellArmed with years of leadership practice and scholarship, Dr. O'Connell credits the inspiration for her model to the Franciscan values that permeate the Lourdes Community.

"Having worked in an environment that instills these universal Franciscan values among all members of our community and then having witnessed how our alumni then impact their communities, it was natural to research the validity of these components when applied to the development of leaders."

Dr. O'Connell's research has focused on two questions:

  1. Can leadership be simplified and compressed into a simple set of constructs and practical realities?
  2. Can we consider a fundamental approach to leader development to apply across contexts and cultures?

Dr. O'Connell has always taught her students that "learning to lead is a developmental phenomenon across the life span." In her research, she has summarized the findings of several new overriding needs for 21st century leaders, proposed by leadership experts and researchers.

A leader must:

  • Have a positive psychological capital, defined as optimism, hope and resilience
  • Consider leadership development as a career-long and lifelong effort
  • Develop the capacity to adapt to complexity, chaos, and unpredictable conditions and outcomes
  • Take a connective, values-based perspective, characterized by universal, cosmopolitan and multicultural knowledge and behavior across all levels, all collectives and cultures
  • Practice leadership that is blurred and shared amongst leaders, followers and peers

Dr. O'Connell's universal leader development model is built on five webs of belief. (See end of article.)

Dr. O'Connell has tested her model with much success:

  • In Hungary, she along with fellow Lourdes faculty (Dariel Jacobs, PhD, Associate Professor of Education; Paul Longenecker, PhD, Assistant Professor of Business & Leadership) offered a one-week course in Hungary with individuals aged 14-54
  • She presented her theory to leadership scholars at the Franciscan International Leadership Institute in Perugia, Italy in July 2011
  • The model was incorporated into the MBA 621: Developing as a Leader course
  • It was utilized in a leadership and team building retreat with members of Central Catholic High School's Glee Club
  • The model was chosen as one of the presentations during the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities Conference in June 2012
  • The framework will be taught to leadership professionals and students at the Leadership and Learning Retreat in Perugia, Italy in July 2012

How will leaders and society in the 21st century benefit?

"My hope is the leadership training and development community and developing leaders themselves will embrace this simple framework for developing and practicing leadership," responds Dr. O'Connell. "It provides a base of commonalities for leaders across the globe; especially for emerging leaders and our newest generations, to develop leadership capacities and solve the 'wicked' problems we face as individuals, groups and societies."

Five webs of belief

The practice and capacity to gain knowledge and skills at all times and in every place. Learning in this framework embodies flexibility and wisdom working simultaneously.

Possessing an acceptance, understanding and incorporation of everyone, everywhere. Reverence in this framework provides the bridge and basis to embrace multiculturalism while adhering to a common denominator for human interaction.

By developing and operating with a personal sense of mission, passion and service, a leader contributes to others for their benefit and his own sense of flow and personal satisfaction. Purpose determines the role one fills, the work one does and the life one engages in. It provides motivation and energy for the individual leader and with the groups they engage. Purpose is a component that evolves and adapts through the lifetime of an individual, group, organization, culture and society.

Knowing one's self and identity, authenticity allows a person to express and behave according to one's unadulterated pure true self. Leaders in the 21st century, with its complexities, uncertainties and upheavals, will need to be genuine, transparent and ethical. The proof of authenticity is the leader's ability to take on different roles and be effective in varied contexts, even exhibiting opposite behaviors; yet, to remain credible, sincere and understood by their followers.

A French word that speaks of the ability to be a member of any society, flaneur describes an individual's ability to maintain balance and take multiple perspectives in communications and decision making. Leaders who possess flaneur have the capacity to take a philosophical and spirit-led approach to living and thinking. "To live and lead with flaneur is to be a detached and wise observer and participant," says Dr. O'Connell.

Flaneur is the one concept that has not previously been addressed in leadership theories. From Dr. O'Connell's perspective, it is important "to think of leadership not from a filter of differences and types. Instead, we are all leaders, followers and contributors. Anyone can be a leader and for the 21st century, everyone will need to be a leader. We can simplify the practice of leadership by focusing on common values, common goals and how we as humans are all alike in our beliefs and our needs."