New graduate course explores ethical leadership and civic engagement

Professors Catherine Frost (left) and Violetta Igneski will co-lead the inaugural Wilson College graduate seminar on leadership and civic engagement, beginning in Winter 2024.


What does good leadership look like?


“Leadership involves key elements, like the idea that a leader should be a person of good character, and they should have clarity about what they value and what aims they should pursue,” says Catherine Frost, professor in Political Science.


“The problem is, one person’s good is different from another’s, so how do you get people to agree and work together?”


To help McMaster’s next generation of leaders reflect on this question, Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement is launching its inaugural graduate seminar, WILSON 700: Studies in Leadership and Civic Engagement, in Winter 2024.


Co-instructed by Frost and philosophy professor Violetta Igneski, this seminar incorporates a unique liberal arts perspective to leadership education.


“We aim to give students an opportunity to reflect on the skills and values that will help them better understand themselves, their strengths, and the role they can play in inspiring a group to work together to achieve important collective goals,” says Igneski.


The course is divided into 5 main themes:


  1. Vice, Virtue and Character;
  2. Principle, Duty and the Good;
  3. Justice and Care;
  4. Fear, Courage and the Ego;
  5. Agency, Solidarity and Empowerment.

“We will build on these themes in order to encourage the development of virtue in both action and character; the inclusion of care and relationality within the development of principles of justice; and to empower their agency as individuals and members of collectivities,” Igneski says.


The study of each theme will include learning from a practitioner in the field who has demonstrated leadership when faced with national and international challenges.


Invited practitioners include a Hamilton city councillor, the director of policy, education, monitoring and outreach at the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and other senior experts from the private and public sector, including some of Canada’s most influential public institutions.


“Leadership is not just having some important goals and a deep commitment, it’s knowing how to get other people on board and get them to engage their own concepts of the good in a larger effort. Without that genuine sense of connectedness, there is nothing more disposable than the figure of the leader, because you can swap out one person for another in a heartbeat and it’s just crowd behavior swinging from one extreme to another,” says Frost.


“Good leadership tends to calm that volatility by building robust connections that can weather the storms of change. Achieving that takes a delicate combination of confidence and humility that is rooted in the kind of thoughtful self-awareness this course is designed to cultivate.”


Igneski adds that good leadership has more to do with personal reflection and relationship-building than authority and power.


“Ultimately, we hope that students will get better in touch with the kinds of persons they want to be, and to learn that leadership isn’t about being charismatic and powerful and coercing people to get inline, but rather about building trust and relationships that will inspire collective action that is desperately needed to address so many current global ills we are facing.”


The course is open to graduate students in the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Humanities.


For more information, go to the Wilson College website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *