The George Washington University is a community of driven individuals who bring rich and diverse lived experiences to our campus community. Students’ involvement in leadership development, through positional and non-positional roles, is an important part of the college experience. These roles help develop a wealth of transferable skills that are not only useful while at GW, but also in the world beyond GW. 

Our Definition of Leadership

Leadership is a purposeful, ethical, and inclusive process of individuals working together to accomplish shared goals and enact positive change.

Leadership Philosophy

We believe in the holistic development of students, that growing as a leader is a lifelong process, and that everyone has the ability to be a leader. In our work, we blend a variety of leadership theories to emphasize the interdisciplinarity of leadership. Through this framework and our leadership programs, we strive to:

  • Build student’s leadership capacity, efficacy, and motivation
  • Provide opportunities for students to gain hands-on leadership experience 
  • Increase students’ self-awareness through the exploration of values, strengths, and identity 
  • Promote collaborative and inclusive practices in all leadership endeavors 
  • Cultivate change-makers committed to empowering and impacting their communities

Pillars of Leadership

We used a variety of prominent leadership theories to develop five competencies, or the Pillars of Leadership, to guide a student’s leadership development journey during their time at the George Washington University. As students engage in experiences that develop their leadership skills and abilities, they should be increasing their skills in at least one of the following capacities.


Skills: Values; Motivation; Identity Development; Personal Strengths; and Opportunities for Growth

Self awareness is vital to effective leadership. Developing self-awareness includes engaging in reflection to better understand what one’s values, personal strengths, and motivation to lead are. Having an understanding of how one’s identity is formed and how that identity informs their leadership style is also essential to effective leadership. By increasing self-awareness, leaders are able to receive feedback; develop new skills to complete tasks; utilize their strengths to creatively solve problems; and reflect on experiences in order to improve in future situations.

Relevant Leadership Theories and Frameworks:

  • Social Change Model of Leadership Development: Consciousness of Self, Congruence, Commitment
  • Relational Leadership Model: Empowering, Purpose
  • Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:  Model The Way
  • Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Honest Self-Understanding, Emotional Self-Perception, Emotional Self-Control, Authenticity, Healthy Self-Esteem, Initiative, Achievement
Interpersonal Development

Skills: Interpersonal Skills; Dialogue Across Difference; and Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Leadership requires that a leader has a meaningful connection with others. It is vital that a leader is able to communicate effectively; listen to others; engage in dialogue with others to find common ground and shared understandings; and invest in the development of others.

Relevant Leadership Theories and Frameworks:

  • Social Change Model of Leadership Development: Collaboration, Common Purpose, Controversy with Civility, Citizenship, Commitment
  • Relational Leadership Model:  Purposeful, Inclusive, Process-Oriented, Ethical, Empowering
  • Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Enable Others to Act, Encourage the Heart, Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Developing Relationships, Teamwork, Group Savvy, Citizenship, Coaching, Empathy, Inspiration, Capitalizing on Difference, Develop Others
Organizational Management

Skills: Goal and Mission Development; Group Dynamics; Conflict Management; Task Completion; and Policies and Procedures

Leaders that are exemplary in organizational management have the ability to facilitate group activities and discussions; resolve conflict between group members; maintain financial records, collaborate with others to accomplish tasks, provide constructive and critical feedback with those they’re working with; plan and execute events; create mission and goals for their organization; and complete tasks in a timely manner. These skills allow the organization to work effectively toward their goals and mission while fostering the development of the membership.

Relevant Leadership Theories and Frameworks:

  • Social Change Model of Leadership Development: Collaboration, Common Purpose, Commitment
  • Relational Leadership Model: Purpose, Process-Oriented
  • Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act
  • Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Inspiration, Initiative, Achievement, Inspiring Others, Coaching Others, Building Teams, Managing Conflict, Facilitating Change


Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Justice

Skills: Inclusive Practice; Social Justice; Representation; Intercultural Competence; and Allyship

A commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice is of the utmost importance in student leaders as they interact with members of the GW community who hold a variety of personal identities and lived experiences. This means having the ability to articulate concepts of power, privilege, oppression, and equity; engaging in inclusive practice; advocating for marginalized groups to support equitable processes; and attending workshops/trainings on intercultural competence and social justice concepts to better one’s ability to work with a diverse group of people.

Relevant Leadership Theories and Frameworks:

  • Social Change Model of Leadership Development: Commitment, Collaboration, Common Purpose, Controversy with Civility, Citizenship
  • Relational Leadership Model: Inclusive, Empowering, Ethical
  • Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Challenge the Process, Inspire a Shared Vision, Encourage the Heart, Enable Others to Act
  • Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Displaying Empathy, Capitalizing on Difference, Developing Relationships, Facilitating Change, Analyzing the Group, Assessing the Environment
Social Responsibility

Skills: Respect; Empathy; Ethics; Integrity;  Community Building; Civic Engagement; and Service

As a student leader at the George Washington University, you have a profound impact on the campus community and should be invested in the needs and people within the community. This looks like engaging in ethical practice; empathizing with others to better meet their needs; participating in mindful community service practices that build relationships and focus on the needs of those being served; and building community within and across groups of people.

Relevant Leadership Theories and Frameworks:

  • Social Change Model of Leadership Development: Collaboration, Citizenship, Commitment
  • Relational Leadership Model: Inclusive, Purpose, Empowering, Ethical, Process-Oriented
  • Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Enable Others to Act, Encourage the Heart
  • Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Displaying Empathy, Developing Relationships, Demonstrating Citizenship, Analyzing the Group, Assessing the Environment

Click here to access a printable version of the Pillars of Leadership.

Leadership Programs

Students participating in a workshop session.

Excellence in Leadership Sessions (ELS)

A workshop series with a wide variety of topics to choose from. Students can choose the topic and times that work best for them. ELS is a great opportunity for any individual to further their leadership abilities and knowledge. ELS also serves as the primary tool for student organization officer training.


Students in a workshop working together to plan.

Co-Curricular Certificate in Leadership Exploration

Launched in fall 2020, this program provides a guided experience through exploring one’s personal leadership development. Participants will explore their leadership strengths, engage in discussion with their peers, and intentionally reflect on their leadership skills and experiences.


Around 80 LEAD participant and guides in front of Gelman Library in Kogan Plaza.


Leadership Exploration and Development - a co-curricular program for incoming, first-year undergraduate students. Upper-class students have the opportunity to lead through the peer leader role.


Photo of Trails Guides backpacking in Shenandoah National park.

Trails Guides

A group of volunteer student leaders who lead outdoor day trips almost every weekend during the academic year, serve as guides for the Adventure Bound pre-orientation program, and lead Adventure Break trips during fall, spring, and winter breaks.

Workshops and Training by Request 

Topics can be adapted to meet the needs of a group. Examples of possible topics include, but are not limited to, group dynamics, leadership foundations, leadership styles, ethical decision making, communication skills, group development, conflict resolution, and self-awareness. Email Andrea Davis, Program Coordinator for more information.

Leadership Opportunities

Leadership development doesn’t happen in one place. GW students have access to abundant resources across campus, both in academic spaces and co-curricular programs. We've put together a menu of resources across campus where you can learn more about leadership development opportunities at GW.


Browse Leadership Development Opportunities