What Will You Learn in a Doctor of Leadership Program?

A group of EdD students posing for the camera
A group of EdD students posing for the camera

Pursuing a Doctor of Leadership, such as the Doctor of Education (EdD) in Leadership, embodies a commitment to continuous learning. Professionals who choose this pathway prepare themselves to drive positive change.

The Doctor of Leadership is a terminal degree focused on applied leadership. It equips professionals to lead in the modern world, advancing their careers and making meaningful impact.

How exactly do Doctor of Leadership programs cultivate more effective leadership? Whether you earn a Doctor of Leadership online or in person, the experience builds leadership excellence through profound insights and transformative experiences. 


What Do Doctor of Leadership Candidates Aspire to Achieve?

Doctor of Leadership candidates aspire to create lasting change through effective leadership practice. This is the main difference between EdD vs. PhD programs. EdD candidates are interested in applied leadership, whereas PhD candidates concentrate more on educational theory.

Every professional earning a Doctor of Leadership is uniquely motivated, but some common themes exist. They want to extend their leadership capabilities, advance their careers and contribute to their organizations, fields and communities.

As graduates, they can pursue countless leadership careers in education, business, nonprofits and public service.


Refining Leadership Approach

Experienced leaders may earn a Doctor of Leadership to enhance their leadership effectiveness. They learn leadership skills to better engage teams, foster innovative organizational cultures and drive performance.

Laura Harbolt, director of volunteer services at Hosparus Health, has held leadership roles for most of her career. To continue evolving her leadership style, she pursued an EdD in leadership.

“I’m very interested in leadership and was looking for a way to dig in deeper, to approach leadership from an academic and scholarly approach,” Laura said. “I know this study will help me be a better leader. In fact, it already has.”


Seeking Career Fulfillment

A Doctor of Leadership program can spark a new sense of career fulfillment.

“I have a desire to get into the academic world post-retirement from the business world,” said John P. Malloy, vice president of gas operations at LG&E/KU Energy. “I work a lot in the nonprofit sector as a volunteer and look to bring some of that leadership into the nonprofit world post-retirement as well.”

A Doctorate in Leadership helps long-time leaders like John expand their impact by providing effective leadership in new roles.


Growing Thought Leadership

Aspiring leaders obtain a Doctor of Leadership to become thought leaders whose influential voices can elevate organizational success.

“I was a bit unsure of myself because I hadn’t had a formal leadership position,” said Clifton Griffin, subrogation examiner at Anthem, Inc. and EdD in Leadership student. “A professor pointed out that leadership is not so much tied up in the role you have. It’s about the person you become. I’ve gone through such a transformation through this program and gained a lot of confidence.”

The competencies gained by Doctor of Leadership students like Clifton can grow one’s influence. 


Transforming Communities

Earning a Doctor of Leadership online or in person can also help individuals grow awareness of societal issues.

For example, Jabani Bennett is leveraging her terminal leadership education to improve teaching and learning outcomes in her community. Jabani is an elementary school art teacher who decided to pursue an EdD in Leadership after moving from New York City to her hometown of Louisville.

“I was working in [New York City] schools that were dealing with various issues around poverty and meeting the needs of children and the low achievement gap…I wanted to explore how it felt as an educator [in Louisville] and contribute back to my community,” Jabani said.

Doctor of Leadership students learn the leadership skills needed to make a positive difference for individuals, families and societies.


What Do Professionals Learn in Doctor of Leadership Programs?

Professionals develop as effective, ethical leaders through Doctor of Leadership programs. The curriculum varies by program, but students generally cultivate knowledge, skills and perspectives across four areas:

  • Leadership theory and practice
  • Systems thinking and cultural competence
  • Organizational change
  • Research methods and inquiry

Graduates are prepared to navigate the complexities of leadership in today's rapidly changing world.


Theme #1: Leadership Theory and Practice

Effective leaders are self-aware. They must continually evaluate and evolve their leadership style to guide, influence and motivate others.

Students in Doctor of Leadership programs analyze the various leadership theories and learn how to apply them in leadership roles. The different approaches allow students to understand their leadership characteristics and behaviors and when to adapt their style.

Students also explore leadership practice and learn essential leadership skills, such as effective communication, problem-solving and data-driven decision-making. 


Theme #2: Systems Thinking and Cultural Competence

Research from McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, shows that globalization is here to stay. The world will continue to be interconnected through goods, services, capital, people, data and ideas. Effective leadership relies on embracing this interconnectedness.

Professionals learn to lead effectively in a diverse world and economy in Doctor of Leadership programs. They adopt a systems-thinking mindset and grow their cultural competence.

Systems thinking refers to “the big picture.” It's knowing the interrelationships between the parts of a system and the systems within larger systems. When leaders adopt systems thinking, they understand cause-and-effect relationships. Doctor of Leadership students explore organizational systems and the connections between local, regional, national and international issues and events.

Students also develop their ability to collaborate with people from different cultures. This is cultural competence. They learn to identify and navigate the complexities of intercultural communication between diverse individuals, institutions and nations.

Systems thinking and cultural competence equip professionals with a broad perspective, vital to effective decision-making and relationship-building.


Theme #3: Organizational Change

All organizations must evolve to survive, but 70% of organizational transformations fail. Organizations and communities need effective leadership to create lasting, positive change.

Doctor of Leadership programs teach professionals to embrace and promote innovation. They study organizational structure and the components of organizational change. Topics may include strategic planning, stakeholder communication and the creative and ethical implementation of change.

As graduates, professionals can effectively manage organizational change. In turn, they can improve organizational culture, including stakeholder engagement, productivity and attitudes around change.


Theme #4: Research Methods and Inquiry

When leaders base their decisions on evidence, they improve risk management, strategic alignment and objectivity. That’s why research methods and inquiry are central themes of Doctor of Leadership programs.

Students learn to think systematically yet creatively about inquiry to ensure informed decision-making and contribute to the body of knowledge in their field.

They learn to use the scientific approach in research, exploring qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, data analysis techniques, literature review methods and ethical considerations.


What Is the Doctor of Leadership Capstone Project?

Doctor of Leadership programs typically culminate in a capstone project. It allows students to demonstrate the knowledge and leadership skills acquired during their studies.

The capstone project differs from the academic dissertation assigned in PhD programs. The capstone applies research to practical challenges, whereas the traditional dissertation focuses on theoretical research.

Students generally conduct research and apply it to a real-world issue during the capstone project. The requirements vary by program, but there are similar components:

  • Original Research: Students choose a practical issue to address through the capstone project and then conduct original research. This could be an empirical study, a qualitative inquiry, a case study or a literature review. They analyze their findings, identify themes and then draw conclusions about the questions they set out to answer.
  • Practical Application: Next, students apply their research to the real-world challenge. Consider a student whose organization is experiencing high turnover. Based on their research findings, they recommend a leadership development program that grows the next generation of leaders in the organization.
  • Written Document: The written component of the capstone summarizes the student’s research process, findings, conclusions and recommendations. It is reviewed by faculty or a committee of professionals.
  • Presentation: Students defend their research, analysis and recommendations in a presentation to faculty and peers. They discuss the questions posed by their research, the implications of their findings, the strengths and limitations of their research and suggestions for future inquiry.


Are You Ready to Advance Your Leadership Excellence?

A Doctor of Leadership program is a transformative experience for professionals and the organizations and communities they serve. It transforms current and aspiring leaders into catalysts for positive change. If you want to grow your impact, consider pursuing your Doctor of Leadership online with Spalding University.

Spalding University’s online EdD in Leadership is an organizational leadership program that develops extraordinary team builders, systems thinkers and drivers of change and innovation in a global economy. It's designed for current and future leaders in business, social services, the arts and higher education.

Students grow as exemplary practitioners of ethical organizational leadership through four themes of study:

  • Advanced Leadership Concepts in Practice: Evolving one’s leadership approach through analyzing traditional and modern theory and personal development.
  • Global and Cultural Perspectives: Developing a sophisticated awareness and understanding of cultural differences in local, national and global contexts to evolve leadership practices.
  • Organizational Innovation and Change: Using proven methods and systems thinking to facilitate innovation and influence organizational transformation.
  • Research-Informed Decision-Making: Applying research-based best practices and methodologies to support impactful, data-driven decisions.

Spalding supports you wherever you are in your leadership journey. Getting your EdD in Leadership from Spalding can help you inspire change in your workplace and community. Complete a form to connect with an enrollment advisor and take the next step.