Over time, we will be posting learning materials about skills and values for effective leadership in a wide variety of situations. The Better Angels curriculum will reflect the course structure of the Leadership Studies Program at Ripon College, supported by materials from the Business Management Program at Ripon College and by materials curated from the Internet, including books, articles, blogs, podcasts, and films. 

The structure of our curriculum will look like this:

  • What We’ve Learned About Leadership. This course introduces key concepts from the development of our understanding of leadership and followership behaviors over the last 10,000 years – from the emergence of agriculture and cities to the rise of industrial and post-industrial economies. The key turning points came as the scientific revolution and the advent of democratic governance replaced ancient habits of physical, political, and military dominance by powerful male chiefs, rulers, and authority figures supported by fear, ignorance, and tradition.
  • Personal Mastery for Effective Leadership. This course traces the development of individual human capacities and values over the normal contemporary life cycle from infancy to advanced age. It considers typical changes in needs and goals following the achievement of previous needs and goals. Special attention goes to the moral and ethical implications of individual human decisions and actions.
  • Team Learning. This course investigates the potential for creative action and effective decision-making in primary groups or teams where team members can interact in immediate face-to-face conversations. As a group gets much larger than seven or eight members, the ratio of active participation per member decreases and the group typically begins to lose focus and fragment into separate groups based on shared knowledge, skills, and interests.
  • Leading Large Organizations and Communities. Large organizations and communities are composed of teams, subgroups, and individuals devoted to specific tasks and goals that aim to benefit the whole organization or community. Leaders of large organizations and communities thus face challenges that differ significantly from the challenges of leading individuals and small primary groups or teams.
  • Strategic Vision. The central challenge of strategic vision is to interpret the character and recent history of a group, organization, or community in relation to its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats moving into the medium-term and long-term future. Effective leaders must be aware of the keys to effective strategic planning.
  • Effective Communication. In order to achieve shared goals, leaders and followers must communicate with each other effectively and creatively. This course investigates the ins and outs of communication in five networks: intrapersonal (inside one brain), interpersonal (between two people only), small-group (up to seven or eight members), organizational (featuring small groups arranged in a hierarchy of power), and mass media (featuring a central sender of messages and a large audience of receivers).
  • Tyrants and True Believers. For the sake of sheer survival, the human brain is wired to pay close attention to extreme danger. Under extreme stress, most people are willing to surrender their rational faculties and their free will to strong authority figures who can manipulate their fears and demand obedience to irrational and destructive commands. This course will examine the lives and careers of humanity’s most prominent tyrants and the reasons why they attracted a significant following of true believers. 
  • The Human Comedy. US President Harry Truman once said that “a leader is a person who gets other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” Ancient philosophers and contemporary psychologists have puzzled over the human capacity to turn fear and pain into healing and encouraging laughter. Some have called the human capacity for humor the most creative aspect of the human brain. To a considerable extent, the most creative and effective leaders in the modern world have also been the funniest. Witness Abraham Lincoln, who presided over the most profound moral crisis in US history, who paid with the tragic loss of his own life, and whose comic insights have filled anthologies and scholarly studies.
  • Case Studies in Moral Values and Effective Leadership. Leadership is not a simple power relation characterized by coercion and manipulation, but a moral and ethical process in which leaders and followers support each other in an attempt to achieve shared goals. This course will investigate historical and contemporary examples of effective leadership in which moral and ethical values are paramount. These examples will be drawn from all of human history as expressed in historical narratives, literature, film, video, and digital formats.