Leader Development & Research

Vision Statement

The Department of Leader Development and Research (LDR) resides within the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Division. LDR coordinates efforts to integrate, expand, and assess the myriad Experiential Leader Development (ELD) programs offered to midshipmen across the four-year continuum.

LDR is conceived as the bridge between LEAD Division curricular programs and USNA experiential leader programs, such as Plebe Detail, Off-Shore Sail Training, YP cruises, and National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) expeditions. LDR's charter is to draw connections between behavioral science theory and leadership practice, for three purposes:

  1. So that experiential leader development programs for midshipmen are properly conceived as leader development experiences (rather than merely 'life experiences' or 'training events')
  2. So that leadership knowledge gained in the classroom is more likely to be evoked and applied during the experience, and
  3. So that space for guided reflection and meaning-making as a leader development experience becomes an integral phase of each ELD program.

LDR seeks to integrate ELD programs with leadership education at USNA, expand existing ELD programs and explore new ELD opportunities in support of the Naval Academy mission, and assess the vitality and efficacy of ELD programs as leadership laboratories. Specifically:


LDR conceives of ELD programs as a "leadership lab" to reinforce classroom concepts and enhance leader experience gained in practice. As experts in leadership theory, leader practice, and experiential learning, LDR personnel first prepare midshipmen for the imminent ELD experience through seminar-style courseware focused on leader role clarification and key domain-specific challenges. This is done by operationalizing knowledge from the classroom in the context of anticipated situational drivers. Then, after the experience, LDR personnel provide guided reflection for select ELD programs, culling developmental lessons from lived experience during the program.


LDR scans the leader development landscape for opportunities to expand the reach of existing ELD programs, to make ELD programs available to a broader population of midshipmen, and to extend the ELD model to new applications. As an example, we are partnered with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to provide midshipmen with the opportunity to participate in leader-focused wilderness expeditions as part of their normal summer training. LDR is exploring options to increase access to the NOLS program for midshipmen by seeking funds to offset costs of the program. Additionally, the Chesapeake Bay NOLS expedition, developed especially for midshipmen, will offer NOLS program benefit at a lower cost.


LDR serves as the nexus for leader development research at USNA. Our research goals include assessment of ELD programs as leader development experiences, but also on behavioral science scholarship that enhances the quality and relevance of instruction in LEAD classrooms.

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