What makes a good leader?

Is it adaptability, effective communication, a knack for identifying prudent risks?

This past semester, UNCG’s Department of Communication Studies worked to answer this question through an experiential learning project that gave 26 students the opportunity to capture the personal perspectives of leaders through interviews.

Students interviewed 22 leaders across the Triad, including entrepreneurs, authors, community leaders and others about the essential characteristics of strong leadership.

The project was a collaboration between UNCG Communication Studies students and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a leadership development organization based in Greensboro that provides creative leadership education to leaders in more than 120 countries.

Championed by UNCG’s Dr. Jessica McCall and CCL‘s Sr. Faculty for Leadership Beyond Boundaries Dr. Marin Burton, the project culminated with students presenting their findings to UNCG faculty and CCL staff. Additionally, the students’ efforts materialized in a series of blogs dubbed “Time To Lead,” published on CCL’s Leadership Beyond Boundaries website.

Some of the leadership traits that emerged from student interviews, course materials and a list of CCL leadership competencies were adaptability, inclusivity, communication competency, innovativeness and risk-taking.

Senior Jacob Pederson learned just how important adaptability is from one-on-one interviews with North Carolina 12th District Representative Alma Adams and UNCG Chief of Police Paul Lester.

“Leaders have to be adaptable,” Pederson said. “They have to be willing to shift and change courses at the snap of a finger. Adaptability is a big part of both Adams’ and Lester’s jobs.”

At the end of the semester, Pederson and his peers designed and facilitated their findings in student-led workshops at CCL.

Seniors Katie Talmon, April Snell and Catherine Natal and junior Mikayla Smith designed their workshop on the leadership traits of innovation and risk-taking. During their facilitation, workshop attendees tested their innovation and risk-taking skills to see which team could build the tallest straw towers using just straw and tape.

CCL Program Coordinators Jeffery Tanner and Margaret Whitt worked with the students during the workshop planning process. Tanner and Whitt, along with six other CCL staff members, attended the workshops and provided feedback to students.

Burton commended the students for their willingness to lean into this challenge.

“I was extremely impressed with how professional the students were,” Burton said. “They were presenting in a different environment than they are used to, and in front of CCL staff that they weren’t familiar with.”

With more than half of the students just graduating, they will soon be putting their own leadership skills to work.

“My hope is that students take the experiences with CCL and use them to hone their own leadership skills in the future,” McCall said.

So, are leaders born or are they made? According to the lessons students learned through this experience, leaders are undoubtedly made.

The leadership blogs written by students will continue to post through the end of August. Check out the blogs here.


Story by Nancy Maingi, Contributor
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Relations