Dr. Joshua Hayden (’99) graduated from the University of Richmond with a B.A. in Leadership Studies. Hayden went on to study leadership at the graduate level—earning his master’s degree in Organizational Leadership at Vanderbilt University and then finishing a doctorate at Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt in 2009. Hayden then worked in several research and teaching capacities at Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations.At Cumberland University in Tennessee, he is an assistant professor in the School of Education and Public Service and director of the First-Year Experience.   

Tell us about your path after Jepson.

Right after I graduated, I was hired at Christopher Newport University to help build a brand new leadership program for undergraduates, which included academic, social and civic components. That’s when I realized I shouldn’t have sold so many textbooks in college for gas money! Suddenly I had to teach and model leadership for students just a few years younger than me, and implement our (evolving) answer to the question, “what does it mean to educate leaders?”

I found myself drawing on the models I had learned at Jepson and my experience with some mentors who had invested time in my life at Richmond.

A second post-graduate experience came through a non-profit organization, where I led a team to join indigenous people, basically social entrepreneurs, who were caring for their community through focusing on young people. We worked in India, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Ethiopia and Uganda. Not only was I able to work with leaders, but through these communities and my team, I was also able to discover my own leadership abilities. I saw heroism in certain local communities and leadership gaps within other communities. I then went on to earn a master's degree in organizational leadership, where I was afforded the opportunity to teach leadership theory to undergraduates as an adjunct instructor, which confirmed my love for teaching in the college environment.

How is your current study tied to your undergraduate study at Jepson?

The great thing about my study at Jepson was that it integrated so many disciplines. This kind of education enables one to take broader principles and analytic tools and apply them to a specific domain. I chose to plant myself in the field of education, which I think of more broadly in the sense of human development within various organizational contexts. Leading other people’s learning processes (and one’s own learning) is currently a teaching and research focus. In this area, I find myself drawing on courses I took at Jepson like Critical Thinking and Leading Change. As an instructor, I often take as a model the active pedagogy of professors I had at Richmond, even borrowing and adapting some of their in-class activities.

Tell us about your areas of research relate to leadership.

Colleges and universities are interesting places to study leadership. They not only have their own political, social, and intellectual contexts, but also their public contexts. They contain the administration, faculty and students, who are the “customers,” followers and sometimes leaders. One facet of this area that interests me is what institutions do to enhance the learning and transformational experience of college. I am working on a study with another faculty member identifying outside-of-class intentional behaviors of faculty toward students that lead to higher satisfaction and student growth. This is leadership within universities on an informal level.

How has your perspective toward leadership changed since teaching it?

The contextual factors of leadership matter more to me now. My perspective began to change when I taught a class at Vanderbilt University called “Executive Leadership,” which was basically the study of leadership through the biographical study of leaders. Sometimes it is unfair to judge leaders even within their own lifetime. Looking at the many factors that influenced these people over their lifetime made me realize how complex, dynamic, and timely leadership is.

The more and deeper I got acquainted with these people and their times, the more instructive they were.

What do you teach in the school of Education at Cumberland University and how does that program approach the teaching of leadership?

I lead a new initiative for all freshmen at Cumberland centered on an academic course called Foundations of Scholarship and Learning (which I designed and now teach) and co-curricular activities that support it. Cumberland is on the grassroots level of beginning a campus conversation about the study of leadership, which I hope to take a role in shaping. This past year, in collaboration with our Dean of Students, I helped design and teach a Student Leadership Academy for 50 student-leaders. We taught primarily through case studies and hands-on activities to give students images and narratives around some central problems and issues of leadership.

What challenge, if any, do you believe the field of leadership has yet to overcome?

I do not think the field of leadership has matured in exploring the dynamics of morality and religious faith in the process of leadership. There are notable textbooks out there that have a separate chapter on morality or ethics or ‘spiritual leadership,’ as if these domains could be separated from other domains of life, or other brands of leadership. Some textbooks avoid discussing moral aspects of leadership altogether. But I do not think there is such a thing as an amoral leadership.