Leadership scholar John Antonakis has a vision. He imagines a woman – a potential leader – uploading a video of herself to a website that houses a "charismometer" that will give her feedback on her charisma.

It’s not a reality yet, but it could be in the future.

Antonakis, a scholar from Switzerland, and other top leadership scholars came together at the University of Richmond Feb. 1-2 to share ideas and discuss the future of leadership studies.

They were on campus for a symposium on the state of leadership studies hosted by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. The School is celebrating its 20th anniversary this academic year.

“The School’s liberal arts approach radically changed how leadership was studied and taught 20 years ago,” says Joanne Ciulla, one of the School’s founding faculty members and conference co-director. “We thought this year was a good time to imagine the future.”

“The Jepson School began as an idea in search of a program. As a challenge waiting for a response,” says Richard Morrill, chancellor of the University.

“I’m honored for the University that so many of you have come to share in the celebration,” he told participants during his opening remarks. The scholars have been consultants for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, governments and presidential campaigns.

“The symposium brought eminent scholars whose careers have been devoted to furthering our understanding of leadership together with the future of leadership studies – graduate students and those who have recently joined the ranks of the academy,” says Sandra J. Peart, dean of the Jepson School.  

During the symposium, “it became evident that the latest research indeed treats leadership as a phenomenon much more complex than the person who holds authority,” Peart wrote in a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post.

New questions have emerged in the last two decades that have changed the way leadership is studied and taught: Can an idea or purpose be considered the “leader?” What role do followers play, and should they be called followers? Should our understandings of science influence how we think about leadership? Is ethical and effective leadership the same? What are the benefits to looking at the context in which leaders operate?

The symposium was comprised of panel sessions that focused on leadership ethics; groups; followership; political leadership; justice and social identity; and literature, history and religion.

The Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award, established to honor the life of the Jepson professor for which it is named and recognize outstanding new scholarship, was presented during the symposium to Jack Barentsen, a theologian from Belgium.

Several students sat in on panel sessions as timekeepers. “It was a great opportunity to see so many of the scholars whose works I’ve studied in my Jepson classes,” says Victoria Lyon, ’13. “I was struck by their passion and commitment to helping students become better citizens.”