Learning to Lead with Values

Students network with alumni
Students network with alumni during a Lawyers as Leaders session.

Lawyers by trade are leaders. They are at the center of important decision making and have the power to change the life of a person, or even impact the lives of millions of people with a single case. But being a lawyer who leads requires skills that go beyond a traditional legal education. Lawyers who lead possess emotional intelligence, social awareness and cultural awareness.

Villanova Law is dedicated to identifying, fostering and developing critical leadership skills in students through coursework and initiatives like Lawyers as Leaders. Commissioned by Mark Alexander, The Arthur J. Kania Dean at Villanova Law, the Lawyers as Leaders program encourages participating students to hone their individual leadership skills.

“An old view of leadership is that leaders are born and not made,” said Dean Alexander. “I reject that view. Leadership skills can be taught and honed through education, awareness and practice. And most importantly, leadership skills at Villanova are taught with values at its core.”

Lawyers as Leaders is an extracurricular not-for-credit program that brings together the heads of student organizations at Villanova Law for a collaborative look at leadership and how to anchor leadership with values. Through a series of sessions spanning the academic year, students are challenged to assess the type of leader they are, explore different leadership styles and to develop values-infused leadership skills that will help them in their future careers and beyond.

“The evolution of a leader is a process that happens organically,” said Doris DelTosto Brogan, Professor of Law, Harold Reuschlein Leadership Chair and faculty advisor for Lawyers as Leaders. “Everyday we are faced with leadership moments, or microbursts of leadership, where we can choose to lead, even in the smallest ways.”

Lawyers as Leaders sessions are inclusive, collaborative and driven by the students and their interests. During the fall semester, participating students completed the Clifton Strengths Assessment to identify their top strengths and then took their findings to the next level—discussing how they could work with their natural strengths to become better leaders. Alumni in leadership positions meet with students to network and share how they lead with values, and students also explore how given different circumstances they can be different types of leaders.

The Spring semester kicked off with three alumni in leadership positions in different organizations discussing their personal values and how they align with the institutional values of their organizations. Students follow-up with a session in which they dig into the task of identifying their own personal values and examine how institutions set values. Another session explores how young lawyers can chart a leadership journey, drawing the experiences of young alumni in the field.  

"I find Lawyers as Leaders helpful because it emphasizes that leadership isn't a character trait—it’s a series of skills that anyone can develop,” said Hannah Schroer ’21. “There's a general perception that leadership requires a loud or aggressive personality, which I don't have. I appreciate that the program pushes me to reflect on using the skills I do have to engage in subtler forms of leadership."

Between sessions, students are assigned thought-provoking readings to keep leadership top of mind as they navigate their daily lives as law students and the heads of various student organizations.

“It’s not just being a leader, it’s being the right kind of leader,” said Brogan. “Having these conversations about leadership equips students so when the moment hits and they’re faced with difficult decisions, they’re not thinking about it for the first time. They not only know how to lead, they let their values and their moral compass drive their leadership.”