Home Blog Leadership as an Art: A Q&A With Dr. Jay L. Caulfield

Leadership as an Art: A Q&A With Dr. Jay L. Caulfield

March 02, 2023
Smiling headshot of Dr. Lay L. Caulfield, Assistant Professor of Management

“Leadership is often called both an art and a science.”1 So begins a recent paper co-authored by Marquette University’s Dr. Jay L. Caulfield. Along with her Marquette colleague, Dr. Felissa K. Lee, and Dr. Bret A. Richards of Creighton University, Dr. Caulfield has published “Leadership as an Art: An Enduring Concept Framed within Contemporary Leadership.” In their writing, the authors set out to refine the meaning of leadership as an art—a concept that’s often alluded to but rarely defined concretely.

Dr. Caulfield recently spoke with us about leadership as an art at Marquette University and in the world at large, her lifetime of commitment to human connection, and several of the people whose lives and work inspire her. Excerpts of the conversation follow here.

Leadership as an Art at Marquette University

Q: At the conclusion of your paper, you say, “Leadership as an art has a key theme: Connecting with others to make the world a better place.” How do you see that theme incorporated into the online Master in Management program at Marquette University?

A: At a broader level is the mission of Marquette and its four pillars: faith, excellence, leadership, and service. Marquette, probably more than any organization that I've worked for, lives by its mission, its vision, and its values. That’s very impressive to me, and it flows through everything that we do. I have no doubt that every one of my colleagues in the program [is] teaching in that way, which is about human connection. Examples of that are some of the leaders we have in our own midst:

Dr. Jennica Webster co-chairs the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Marquette. In my mind, [she] epitomizes Marquette's mission and makes that human connection.

Dr. Kristie Rogers just won an international Leadership Award. (Editor’s note: Dr. Rogers was featured among the 50 Best Undergraduate Professors of 2022 by Poets&Quants. She is also the 2022 winner of the college-wide Brennan Master Teacher Award based on her past 10 semesters of student evaluations, and is a 2022 Marquette University Faculty All-Star.) How does she do that? By making a great connection with her students.

My colleagues make that connection with me, they make it at our meetings, and I'm sure they're making it in the classroom. That is key to the management program, and it's key to Marquette itself, and I believe that the business community is starting to get it and its importance. Because the public is recognizing that business really has to be on board with not only making profits, but doing something for their community, making the world a better place.

Teaching World Improvement Through Leadership

Q: Within your own classes, how do you emphasize improving the world through leadership?

A: I've been blessed to teach something I love, and because of that, it's very easy for me to talk about human connection and ethics, because how could you possibly teach leadership without bringing in human connection and ethics? That's what it's all about.

Character-Driven Leadership

I teach LEDR 6115: Character-Driven Leadership—that is really a course in self-leadership. Steven Covey's work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” is my foundation for that class. I bring in Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection,” the Arbinger Institute’s “Leadership and Self-Deception,” and Erin Meyer’s “The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business.”

These are all things that you have to think about and understand. You have to know where you stand on those issues and develop those skills before you can lead anyone else. So that gives me a wealth of opportunity to bring in human connection.

For the most part, some of the things that [students] say online they would never say in the classroom because [doing so makes] them so very vulnerable and that takes courage. My hunch is, and some research supports this, that the emotion that goes with what they're sharing can't be shared from their faces online, but the tone of their voices would be shared in the classroom. I think that gives them more courage to be able to share things online and to connect with one another in the classroom.

That's where it starts: connecting with themselves and then connecting with those in the classroom. The integrative learning experience for that course is to pull all of the five books that we study together in a dynamic, personal and professional leadership development plan.

It never ceases to amaze me that graduate students find this course as meaningful as they do. I sometimes get messages from past students that say that was one of the most valuable experiences that they had, and they return to it to help them decide what their life goals are, based on the materials in the course. [And it’s] not about me teaching the course; it's about their self-exploration. It's about them. I get comments like, “This is the most amazing course I ever took. It taught me so much about me that I didn't know,” and I think, to be a good leader, you have to start with that foundation.

Contemporary Leadership

I also teach LEDR 6051 Contemporary Leadership. I bring in the work of a number of leaders known for humanistic leadership: some in education, some in business. Michael Pirson focuses a lot on dignity for every human being—not that they have to earn it but that they have it because they are human beings—and not only dignity for human beings, but for the planet. He has a very broad view and wonderful view. We spend some time with that.

Then I've incorporated an assignment where we bring in a sub-culture in the United States to study. This semester, we’re studying Asian-Americans. It gives [students] an opportunity to see Asian-Americans and view how they arrived in this country, what their challenges were, what benefits they brought to the country—all in the context of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Hopefully, that helps them not only to connect with each other in the class, but to connect with other cultures in the United States and in their places of work. One student just emailed me: He's working with [members of the] Hmong population, and he asked, "What do I ask them?” And I said, "Why don't you first do the required readings and then find some readings specific to the Hmong? Once you find out what your interest is, ask them if they would be willing to be interviewed around your interest." It's a way of connecting him to his coworkers, some of whom are Hmong, but much broader than that, [it’s] helping him to understand that population a bit better, and helping that population to understand his, because when you interview someone, it's an exchange.

Discovering the Unexpected in Teaching Leadership

Q: You said that your students tend to find the subject matter unexpected. Where does the element of surprise come in for them?

A: I think in the way I handle the material. I bring management in the way of leadership. In business schools, leadership is a subordinate of management. I bring it in in how it impacts businesses. I’ve taught statistics. I taught quantitative research and people wondered, “How would you bring leadership in there?” You’d darn well better, because look at the Enrons of the world. They're very numbers-focused. Unfortunately, leadership and ethics didn't go along with [Enron’s financial practices]. People who have the gift of quantitative skills have to recognize that bias exists in that science just as in social science. And I think we're starting to get that. You can do anything with numbers; you can make them say anything. If you're ethical, you're going to be as transparent and non-manipulative with those numbers as you can be. So there's a great opportunity to bring that into every course that we teach.

A Life of World-Building Through Human Connection

Q: You have a multi-faceted background and a wonderful career trajectory: a degree in nursing, a doctorate in educational psychology, upper-level leadership tenure in health care administration, and then a career in academia. A throughline appears to be a drive to make the world better through connection with other people. Has that always been your intention?

A: Human connection has always been a part of me and has been very important, the reason being that I have never discounted the blessing of having a very solid family, a very Christian family. My parents loved each other. They were soulmates for 50 years. And that makes all the difference in the world. Honestly, I rarely remember that they argued, and if they did it, it mustn't have been in front of me. It was just that solid relationship that they had. That gives you such security as a human being, and it gives you the courage to approach others. Vulnerability is really about courage: to be able to really say what you think because your self-esteem is there, because that's the type of environment that develops it. So that part was with me since youth.

I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. I have no siblings. All the neighborhood was boys. My cousins were boys. So I always wondered, in my early years, when I started to go to school, why was it that I always got along with boys better than I did with girls? And that helped me in my leadership career because when I became a leader, I remember walking into a boardroom many times where I was the only woman, and if I didn't feel comfortable with men, it would've been a problem.

The bottom line is that I never planned to be a leader. I think some people find that unusual, but I never sought out leadership positions. They just came to me, and I think the reason that happened is that I truly try to live God's purpose for my life. My spirituality led a lot of my life decisions, and so when I had the opportunity to lead, it was His calling for me.

I have always worked for non-profits. I like less focus on profits. I firmly believe this: The business leaders who have figured out that connection is what's going to drive profitability more than anything else—those are the organizations that do well for long periods of time. I think business is starting to recognize that. Marquette reinforces others before self, and I’m so impressed to see it in younger people. I see that they really want to have a sustainable planet, that they're willing to take a lesser salary to work for an organization that cares about the community. Seeing that in the next generation, that will be in higher-level positions, is very hopeful.

How to Learn Leadership as an Art

Q: Do you see the art of leadership as something that can be taught in an in-person or online classroom setting, or does it require real-life experience?

A:. Both. I can't imagine just learning leadership in the classroom without experiencing it. On the other hand, I think what you experience is better defined by leadership in the classroom. It’s always great to have students come into the classroom with some leadership experience. I'm not saying having a high-level or even a medium-level management or leadership position within an organization, but maybe they led a project in their community; maybe they were Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Take a role because then you get to experience what it's like to persuade in an ethical way, to make a difference in the direction that you want to go in with something. And then, when you come into the class with that type of experience, there’s a connection to what you learn in the classroom, so it makes much more sense to you.

The person that comes to my mind is my most favorite president, and that's Lincoln. He had a very interesting life, and he just kept building until he became the leader that he was, and he was a leader before his time. He practiced collective leadership to the point that his Cabinet could have pounded him over the head sometimes—"Just make a decision!” It was very important for him not only to hear what his allies had to say, but to hear what his opponents had to say, to involve everyone in some crucial decision-making. It had to take a lot of courage.

In one of the greatest lines in the movie Lincoln, he says to Thaddeus Stevens, “If in pursuit of your destination you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what's the use of knowing True North?”3 He had that talent of recognizing what he had to say to various audiences to bring them on board, and I do believe though he did that in an honest way. And he also had a great way of using self-deprecating humor to bring people along. His leadership was highly unusual for leaders at that point in time, but you see it in many great leaders today.

Leadership as an Art Today

Q: Who on the world stage or the local stage today demonstrates leadership artistry that you admire?

A: Greta Thunberg. She said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that, in an existential emergency, if you are privileged and have the opportunity to act, you have the moral obligation to do so. That is a very, very powerful quote, and for that to come from a 21-year-old is just phenomenal. She has written a book. She was willing to get up in front of the United Nations and tell them exactly what she thought about the progress we've made, and that takes courage. That is really making yourself vulnerable. She has autism. She doesn't let that stop her for a minute. She will do nothing but grow, and she lives what she preaches: She's a vegan, she goes across the Atlantic in a solar-powered boat, she lives what she talks about. It’s critically important to be able to live what you believe.

There’s a male leader who’s local. I'm not going to mention his name because I don't know that he would want me to. But he also has autism. And he came to me when I was in an administrative position in academia, and it was my job to admit students to our graduate leadership program, and he had been turned down by another program and had a very poor GMAT score.

I started interviewing him. Before he told me he was autistic, I noticed he couldn't keep eye contact; he was fidgeting. I'm a nurse, so that was telling me something was amiss. I thought he was being very honest with what he was telling me, so finally, as we got comfortable, I asked him why he thought he did so poorly on the GMAT, and that's when he told me he had autism. It had made him so nervous and he couldn't focus in a room of people [taking the exam]. I talked to my dean and we admitted him to the program.

He has since written a book on autism; it’s about to come out. He sits on the Governor's Autism Council. He started a firm in human resources and he's still the president of it. He gives to the community like you couldn't believe. I don't know how he possibly gets it all done.

I think that sometimes we measure the success of a person in totally the wrong way, and we really need to pay attention to that. And the fact that we [at Marquette] are paying less attention to GMAT scores makes me very happy because that's not necessarily what's going to hone leadership. You can't look at only one type of measurement because then you're going to miss some of the best people, the most energetic, the people who are going to help your community the most.

Another person is Brené Brown. I value her as a leader because she brought forward the importance of human connection. She spent two decades researching it, she brought all her research forward, she had the courage to let herself be known to others when she was most vulnerable. She really demonstrated what vulnerability is. Her research in imperfection is phenomenal; to me, it has taken leadership steps forward. I really admire her and her work.

Malala Yousafzai: What a tremendous leader for women in education. Gets shot in the head at 15, recovers and just picks up the ball and wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Whenever I surround myself with leadership like that, I feel so inspired. I tell my students this: Surround yourself with people who are making a difference in the world, and then you will, too.

Prepare to Lead with Connection, Compassion and Clarity

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Make your mark through the art of leadership. Start by reaching out to one of our Admissions Advisors today.

Special Thanks to Dr. Jay L. Caulfield

Dr. Jay L. Caulfield joined Marquette University’s Department of Management in 2014, previously serving as academic administrator and faculty member for Marquette’s graduate leadership studies and public service programs for 10 years. Her research interests include contemporary leadership theory, ethics, organizational change and social networks. She teaches leadership and ethics, organizational behavior, and leadership decision-making.

Prior to changing career paths in 2004, she worked in health care administration for over 20 years, where she served in various administrative roles, including president and CEO, vice president, and board chair for a state health care association. She is a recognized expert in the field of blended teaching and learning, having won recognition for teaching, research, and consulting in this area.

Dr. Caulfield holds a PhD and an MBA from Marquette University and a BS in Nursing from Alverno College.

  1. Retrieved on February 6, 2023, from epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1349&context=mgmt_fac
  2. Retrieved on February 6, 2023, from hbr.org/2012/08/every-leader-is-an-artist
  3. Retrieved on February 6, 2023, from imsdb.com/scripts/Lincoln.html