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Ethical & Creative Leadership

A Critical Look at Leaders and Leadership

The field of Leadership Studies inquires into the nature of leadership by exploring the qualities of individuals and groups engaged in leadership; the processes and relationships that make up leadership; as well as the conditions, culture, and contexts in which leadership takes place.

While leadership is not the same as power or authority, leadership cannot be adequately explored without considering the distinction and relationship between them. Nor can leadership be considered without attention to the relationship between leadership and change, as most definitions of leadership suggest that is the purpose of leadership.

The seminars in the Ethical & Creative Leadership concentration explore these notions, but also question the assumptions behind them, particularly for a post-industrial world characterized by changes that appear to rapidly emerge rather than proceed from careful planning.

Doctoral students are encouraged to explore established, contemporary, and emerging ideas of leadership using...

  • Critical thinking
  • Individual and cultural experiences
  • Creative work
  • Scholarly research

What We Mean By “Ethical & Creative Leadership”

Creative leaders address current social concerns by challenging the gods of society and working with others to overcome the boundaries that limit us in our human quest for greatness. They search for meaning and seek social change that has lasting value. They identify or create opportunities overlooked by others. They seek to create a world that reflects the complex make-up of society and works for everyone.

Like Prometheus, who was punished for stealing fire from the gods to give to humans, such leadership often meets with profound resistance. It requires courage and often entails sacrifice. Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Aung San Suu Kyi are among those who come to mind, but there are countless others whose names are not widely known, often because they have worked at the grassroots level, without titles, and in ways that some might not recognize as “leadership.”

However, creative leadership can be harmful if it is not grounded in an ethical stance that considers traditional notions of community obligation and individual responsibility as well as more recent ethical philosophies that emphasis care, cultural identity, and resistance to established social norms.

The work of Robert Romanyshyn and Parker Palmer reminds us that ethical leadership begins with the leader answering a “call” and not with an ego-driven desire for power, fame, or wealth. Consequently, it is imperative that leaders not only be guided by espoused ethical beliefs, but be sufficiently self-reflective to discern what is driving their work, when their shadows are engaged, and ultimately, whether they are being faithful to the call.

Student Leaders

Value of a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies for Students of Leadership

Leadership itself is an interdisciplinary study spanning biology, psychology, sociology, political science, ethics, history, communication, cultural studies, and business management.

The interdisciplinary structure of the Union Institute & University Ph.D. program supports a curriculum that treats leadership as a way of being in the world, examines dynamics of power, is grounded in ethics and philosophy, and explores how leaders can effect social justice and change through public policy. This interdisciplinary approach, along with the foundational themes of ethics and social justice, engaging difference, and creative process, provide Union Institute & University graduates with a unique perspective on the role of leaders and leadership in a changing, complex, and global world.

Degree Outcomes and the Career Paths Followed by Graduates

Graduates have found that a study of Ethical & Creative Leadership is a personally transformative experience that enhances careers in teaching, higher education administration, civic and public leadership, ministry, nonprofit and organizational leadership, sustainability, and business management.

Students in the Ethical & Creative Leadership concentration come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds; no previous study of leadership or management is assumed or required. Those who do come to the program with a master’s degree in business administration or training in executive leadership find an underpinning for their practical knowledge based on theory and empirical studies as well as a comprehensive look at how research can contribute to the practice of leadership.

Ethical & Creative Leadership Faculty

Guest Workshop Leader

Peter Block Peter Block is a leadership author and consultant


As outlined on the Program Overview, all students are required to complete four Interdisciplinary Foundational Seminars as well as the Academic Skills and Research Methods sequences. In addition, to the seminars listed here, students opting for a Primary Concentration in Ethical and Creative Leadership will take two 3-credit-hour Core Seminars and four 3-credit-hour Advanced Seminars as well as three Electives and two individualized Studies. The Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation will complete the course of study.

Please note that the content of individual seminars described below is subject to change and that not all advanced seminars are offered during every term. Additional special topics seminars will be offered depending on the interests of students as well as the availability of regular faculty and visiting scholars. Sample syllabi on the program's website are provided for informational purposes only; they may not reflect the content and policies of seminars currently being offered.