Here’s 8 free online leadership courses hosted by top universities

BY Sydney LakeSeptember 14, 2022, 7:18 PM

Statue of John Carroll, founder of the school, on the campus of Georgetown University, as seen in Washington, DC in September 2001. (Photo by: Robert Knopes—UCG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

The great debate in leadership studies is whether leadership is a natural or learned skill. While the question will likely never be settled, taking leadership courses can still prove to be effective career boosters. These types of courses can help you assess your effectiveness as a leader, learn management skills, and get feedback from other experienced leaders, according to Tim Stobierski, a contributor to Harvard Business School Online’s Business Insights Blog

Many top universities, educational companies, and corporations host leadership skills trainings—and demand for, and spending on, these courses continues to grow, a study from market research company Technavio shows. Depending on what type of leadership training you choose to pursue, the process can be expensive. Executive coaches can cost hundreds of dollars per hour and some organizations spend upwards of tens of thousands of dollars per year to train their employees in leadership. 

That said, leadership training has a decent return on investment (ROI). According to a Training Industry study by ROI expert Paul Leone, first-time managers who complete a leadership development program offered a 415% annualized ROI, meaning that their respective company made $4.15 for every $1 spent on the skills training. 

“What we wanted to prove with this case study was that leaders can’t afford not to attend leadership training and that the sooner they go, the sooner they can add even more value to their organization’s bottom line,” Leone, founder of MeasureUp Consulting, an ROI consultancy, wrote in the findings of his study. “This is exactly what our case study proved: New leaders were adding more value to the business the sooner they went through the training.”

If you’re not sure where to start with leadership training or your company doesn’t offer courses, many top universities offer free online classes. Fortune has compiled eight leadership courses that can be a great starting place for your training.

Harvard University: Exercising Leadership: Foundational Principles

In this intro-level, four-week course offered by Harvard University, participants learn leadership strategies in a changing world. Exercising Leadership: Foundational Principles is taught by Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership and a senior lecturer in public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, a world-renowned leadership and public policy school. Course topics include identifying and addressing complex challenges, understanding authority, identifying stakeholder perspectives, relationship building, and approaching conflict. The self-paced course requires about two-to-three hours of work per week.

Northwestern University: High Performance Collaboration: Leadership, Teamwork, and Negotiation

Northwestern University’s free online course High Performance Collaboration: Leadership, Teamwork, and Negotiation helps participants learn more about their leadership style through self-assessments. This course is part of the school’s Organizational Leadership Specialization, which also includes courses in leadership communication, social influence, and leadership through marketing and design. High Performance Collaboration: Leadership, Teamwork, and Negotiation is the first course of the specialization and takes about 14 hours to complete. Recurring course sessions are held every other Monday.

University of Washington: Speaking to Inspire: Ceremonial and Motivational Speeches

Public speaking skills are essential for “all professionals in all fields who aspire to leadership, as the ability to influence others is a crucial part of leadership,” according to the study The Benefits and Necessity of Public Speaking Education. The University of Washington offers a free online course Speaking to Inspire: Ceremonial and Motivational Speeches to help professionals learn how to prepare and deliver effective speeches. This beginner-level course addresses storytelling skills, appropriate tone, and speech delivery. It takes about 16 hours to complete and students will record speeches and both give and receive feedback on fellow classmates’ presentations. 

Georgetown University: Ethical Decision-Making: Cultural and Environmental Impact

One of the pillars of learning effective leadership is understanding the ethics behind important decision making. In Ethical Decision-Making: Cultural and Environmental Impact hosted by Georgetown University, participants learn about the ethical concerns facing international corporations today. This intro-level course investigates manipulative marketing and teaches students how to assess restrictions that should be put in place. John Kline, a Georgetown professor of international business diplomacy, teaches the course, which takes about 9 weeks to complete at three-to-five hours per week.

Stanford University: Organizational Analysis

This intro-level course hosted by Stanford University helps participants learn multiple theories of organizational behavior and change. The Organizational Analysis course includes case studies on a variety of organizations, including school systems, governments, technology firms, and universities. Students will learn more about the challenges that organizations face and how to predict actions that will put these groups back on a better path to success. Education, sociology, and organizational behavior professor Daniel A. McFarland teaches the 10-week course, which requires about two hours of work per week. At the end of the course, participants take an exam.

Indiana University: Developing Your Personal Leadership Style

While academics have prescribed several styles or classifications in which a variety of leaders fall, everyone still has distinct leadership traits that make them unique. Developing Your Personal Leadership Style allows participants to focus on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and values. Taught by three Indiana University business school professors, the course also focuses on communication and people management skills. The self-paced course takes four weeks to complete, and requires a commitment of about two-to-three hours per week. Instructors will introduce students to tools that will help them evaluate their own leadership style.

MIT: Practical Leadership

“Leadership is the ability to influence a group of people towards a goal,” according to the Practical Leadership course syllabus. In this course hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, students learn about their own leadership capabilities through coaching and feedback from other students. Course materials include readings, role plays, experiential exercises, and reflections through journaling. The course is self-guided and covers topics including leadership frameworks, communication, situational leadership, influencing others, and decision making.

University of California—Irvine: Intercultural Communication and Conflict Resolution

Intercultural communication is becoming even more important to master in today’s global economy. The University of California—Irvine’s course International Communication and Conflict Resolution course helps participants learn more about stereotyping, generalizing, and communications as it relates to global conflicts. Students learn how to understand cultural differences and analyze intercultural interactions. The course takes about five hours to complete and is part of the school’s Conflict Management Specialization, which includes two other courses and a capstone project.

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s degree programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and business analytics, as well as the doctorate in education programs MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).

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Here’s 8 free online leadership courses hosted by top universities

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