Focusing on servant leadership

Published 12:51 pm Monday, July 3, 2017

Twenty-six high school students and nine counselors got to learn anew what it means to be a servant leader recently at Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC).

Through listening to speakers, sharpening new skills — such as public speaking through workshops — and even undertaking a daunting 50-foot high ropes course and a community service project, the students got involved with the six-day Shelton Leadership Challenge at H-SC for the third summer.

The program, which was founded 15 years ago by former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired four-star Gen. Hugh Shelton, focuses on cultivating values-based leadership skills in young people that they can then take to their respective communities.

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Values-based leadership, according to H-SC’s website, includes honesty, integrity, compassion and social responsibility.

Retired Lt. Col. and Director of the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest Rucker Snead said he and the late retired Lt. Gen. Samuel V. Wilson previously discussed expanding the leadership training programs held at the Wilson Leadership Center to high school students.

The Shelton Leadership Challenge is one of seven leadership programs the Wilson Center hosts, Snead said. 

“We decided this is what we need here at Hampden-Sydney,” Snead said. “The model of leadership they teach aligns very closely with what we do at the Wilson Center to focus on the servant leader and then values-based leadership.”

Wilson and Snead got word of the Shelton Leadership Challenge about four years ago, which was then held at North Carolina State University at the Shelton Leadership Center.

Snead said H-SC sent a group to the event to observe and take part in the camp, and challenge leaders agreed that H-SC would serve as a challenge location.

Retired Col. Greg Eanes, visiting lecturer for the Wilson Center, said some past campers have gone on to be students at H-SC.

Second-year participant and camper-turned peer mentor Guy Wall, of Farmville, said highlights of the week included speaker Retired Gen. Jerry Boykin, the Visiting Wheat Professor of Leadership at H-SC and an Army three-star general, who was involved in the Black Hawk Down conflict between the United States and Somalia, the subject of the 1999 nonfiction book by Mark Bowden and the 2001 film directed by Ridley Scott.

During his address, Boykin asked the campers, “Who are you?” challenging them to know themselves and their beliefs.

Wall, who attends Woodberry Forest School in Madison County and who traveled to Sri Lanka the day after the camp ends to help restore Buddhist temples as part of a fellowship grant with Woodberry Forest, said the camp not only enables self discovery, but the chance to bond with other campers.

He said this was especially the case during the high ropes course.

“When you’re up in the air, it can be kind of frightening for some people who are afraid of heights,” Wall said. “And that constant encouragement and that motivation they get from others around them really helps them become a team, and they all feel that at some point or another that they were being led, and they were leading.”

To learn more about the challenge, visit