The Wilson Center begins preparing leaders during their very first year at Hampden-Sydney. Although students are not eligible for the National Security Studies and Public Service programs until their sophomore year, a select group of freshman students are offered an early opportunity to get involved in developing leadership skills.

The Martin Leadership Program has been coordinated since its inception by Dr. Curtis Smith, who teaches in the Public Service Program. It begins with a two-day practical exploration of leadership before orientation, featuring a Harvard case-study and sessions with The Wilson Center for Leadership faculty. Meeting formally throughout each semester and informally several additional times, the program organizes sessions to help students appreciate the importance of self-understanding and context for successful leadership. Students interact with successful alumni leaders in business and law, take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, and compete in an organizational simulation.