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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

The soul of a teacher

Alumna spreads her passion around the world

Dec. 13, 2012, by Sandi Mulconry

Carol Leland (front row) seated fifth from right, with Ethiopian healthcare leaders
Carol Leland (front row) seated fifth from right, with Ethiopian healthcare leaders

Working with the U.S. Agency for International Development last year in Egypt, leadership development specialist Carole Leland ’56 found her stay extended by a week—because revolution had just broken out. Despite being confined to her hotel and the tear gas that occasionally wafted up to her balcony, Leland was glad to be there. “I appreciated the opportunity to talk to people and get an understanding of what was happening,” she says.

Leland’s work as principal and part owner of Leadership Enterprises and her continuing relationships with the Public Health Institute in Oakland, Calif., and the Center for Creative Leadership have taken her throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. She has taught courses on visionary leadership in Sudan, worked with Ethiopia’s Minister of Health and, earlier this year, visited a large state in northern Nigeria, where she provided leadership development to the governor’s cabinet, civil service heads, and parliamentarians.

Leland says her work is aimed at “equipping people in leadership roles to do their jobs more effectively—to use their resources better, work more collaboratively
and have stronger voices in terms of advocacy with their own governments. I have a very strong personal commitment to this,” she says.

Though tremendously satisfying, this is hardly the career she envisioned when she graduated from The College of Arts and Sciences. Leland majored in English, minored in Latin, and was head of the women’s student government. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Harvard and a doctorate in higher education and sociology at Stanford, and served many years in university administration.

“At one point, I was asked to think seriously about taking the vice presidency of a Big Ten university,” she says. “But I realized that I didn’t want to be in a leadership role—I wanted to help other people be successful leaders. When I came to grips with that, I knew I was at heart a teacher. Teaching has been the thread running through my life’s work,” she says. “Good leaders are teachers—they’re the ones who develop others and model the kind of work they hope others will do.”

Carol Leland's family of dogs: Sonata, Bravo, Duet, and Tempo
Carol Leland's family of dogs: Sonata, Bravo, Duet, and Tempo
In 1991, Leland and a close colleague and friend, Helen Astin, co-wrote Women of Influence, Women of Vision: A Cross-Generational Study of Leaders of Social Change. Called “the single best book on women and leadership” by Warren Bennis, the work found common themes across generations: women leaders always came prepared, they were driven by their values, and they were risk-takers. The book continues to sell and was recently translated into Arabic; Leland describes the project as “a pure joy.”

When Leland returned to campus for her 50th reunion, she was struck by how pervasive the value of service was among her classmates and by the number doing good around the world. At Reunion, she received The College’s Distinguished Alumna Award. Shortly thereafter, she joined The College’s Board of Visitors, where she now serves on the nomination and recruitment committee.

“I realized I was living the values of the University and perhaps could give back in a different way,” she says. “Like hundreds and hundreds of other people who went to Syracuse and were truly imbued with a sense of service, I’ve never lost that. It’s always been a part of who I am and what I think I’m best at.”

This fall, she’ll offer leadership development training to the Dean’s Team, which seeks to promote a greater sense of community among students of The College. Similar to training she does around the world, the program will focus on self-awareness, values, and emotional intelligence.

Teaching is just one of Leland’s passions; another is music. Her dogs—a poodle and three Westies—are named Sonata, Bravo, Duet, and Tempo. “Singing in the Hendricks
Chapel Choir
was the absolute love of my life,” she says.