Storytelling, St. Paul and the Vocation of Leadership
Date Published: Jan. 16, 2018
“Leading well is ultimately living well,” said Brett Bourbon, associate professor
of English and co-director of UD’s new Master of Leadership program. “It requires
the virtues of courage and perseverance. It requires self-awareness and an acuity
in understanding others and complex situations.”
"Leadership requires the virtues of courage and perseverance. It requires self-awareness
and an acuity in understanding others and complex situations."
– Brett Bourbon, Ph.D.
Bourbon, whose academic area of expertise is modern literature, is also a strategy
and branding consultant for a number of major companies. He sees a common thread between
those two disparate worlds – literature and business – in the art and science of storytelling.
“Leaders establish what they stand for and who they are through the stories they tell
and through the stories told about them. These stories create a community around the
leader, who in turn uses additional stories to guide his or her community,” said Bourbon.
The health of a community is intimately tied to the health of its leaders, believes
J. Lee Whittington, co-director with Bourbon and professor of management at the Satish
and Yasmin Gupta College of Business. And yet, as a consultant, he has the same conversation
over and over again with business leaders.
“I ask them what they’re doing to shape the next generation of leaders, and they give
me blank looks,” he said.
It isn’t just the business world that Whittington is worried about.
"We need to develop the next generation of leaders throughout all levels of society."
– J. Lee Whittington, Ph.D.
“We need to develop the next generation of leaders throughout all levels of society,”
To do that, this business professor and former business college dean turns to the
Bible. Whittington believes the apostle St. Paul is one of the greatest leaders the
world has ever had. He cites St. Paul’s blend of affirmation and challenge to his
followers, as well as his loving relationship with them.
“On the human side, I think he’s responsible for the establishment and spread of Christianity,”
said Whittington. “I think we can glean a lot of relevant and practical leadership
principles from Paul’s life and letters.”
Whittington’s unique approach to thinking about leadership has resonated with many.
The 30-day Bible study plan he designed for Bible.com focusing on St. Paul’s leadership
has so far been completed by more than 10,000 people.
The University of Dallas’ new Master of Leadership program is another long-dreamed
of way for Whittington and Bourbon to remedy this lack of preparation for leaders.
The 30-credit hour program includes a series of core courses on leadership, including
its ethical, psychological and strategic aspects, elective courses in history, politics,
and English, and a capstone project exploring a real-world leadership problem.
The program, which began enrolling students in fall of 2017, is aimed at anyone who
is currently in or aspiring to a leadership role.
“There are a lot of people in leadership roles in a variety of organizations who want
to work on their leadership; but they don’t need the technical and quantitative skills
of an MBA,” said Whittington.
Bourbon and Whittington envision a degree that cuts across colleges. The Master of
Leadership is officially administered by the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts,
but students will be able to take advantage of the wide range of University of Dallas
“It’s a degree for leaders,” said Whittington. “It’s not a business degree. It is
a University of Dallas degree that taps into all we offer here at UD.”
The University of Dallas’ mission is to form students in intellectual and moral virtues
to prepare them to lead and serve their communities in a problematic and changing
world. This is part three of a three-part series examining the “new renaissance” of programs at the University
of Dallas that support UD’s mission to form servant-leaders.