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University of Charleston MBA program makes connections

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David Luechauer David Luechauer

David Luechauer, Ph.D., is program director for the MBA-L program at the University of Charleston.

The question, “Why should anyone be led by you?” is not only the title of Goffee and Jones' cogent and thought-provoking 2000 Harvard Business Review article. It is also a question that everyone from pastors to politicians, teachers to union stewards, C-suite executives to front line managers, and PTO presidents to leaders of not-for-profit boards should frequently ask themselves.

Moreover, it is the question we want University of Charleston graduating MBA-L students to be prepared to answer whether it comes up in their first interview or down the line when they are being considered for the CEO, CMO, CFO or other high level positions for which they have been trained. It is not a question MBAs are typically prepared to respond because they usually are trained to focus almost exclusively on applying complex economic, financial and accounting concepts to the situations they encounter.

The MBA-L program and our approach to leadership development is to use an experiential, holistic and integrated process that engages students in a three step journey — analogous to The Heroes Journey — that prompts movement from a) awakening, through b) enlightenment, to c) transformation. We seek to graduate students who have increased their willingness and ability to embrace and enact a way of being that is: authentic, values-based; inner-directed; externally-open; other-focused; purpose-driven; results-minded; which inspires, enables and empowers others to do likewise. In short, we seek to produce self-leaders who are not dependent upon status, structure, position, title, experience or their ability to dish out rewards and punishments to get the job done.

To accomplish this objective requires some curricular modifications. Instead of offering the standard two- or three-credit-hour classes that focus on specific topics and encourage narrow thinking, we offer integrated courses that range from six to 12 hours in length and require students to combine historically disparate topics such as, No. 1: Economics, marketing and human resources; or No. 2: Accounting, organizational behavior and information technology to solve real business problems and address real business issues in real time with real clients. We lead with an integrated 12-hour strategy and problem solving course that follows Chandler's 1962 dictum that strategy drives structure and all other organizational process rather than save this for the capstone strategy course that historically ends most MBA programs. Through the use of two required professional practicums in local/regional organizations, a work-based international trip; required weekly meetings with mentors from the business community; networking experiences; and a host of self and outside assessments we seek to develop students who have both business acumen and self-awareness or a high IQ and EQ in today's terms. While we do not eschew the case method that dominates most MBA programs, we make every effort to connect our students to people and projects in the city and region so they can test their skills against the cold hard realities of organizational politics, resource constraints and time pressures. Last year, UC MBA-L students used their skills to facilitate everything from improving recycling efforts for the Kanawha Valley Solid Waste Authority to increasing the number of people who exercise in the City of Charleston's Power Walking 150 campaign. Instead of talking about SWOT analysis, our students obtain valuable project management and problem-solving experience by working with such firms as Triana Energy, Charleston Area Medical Center, Office & Commercial Cleaning-WV, HealthSmart, BB&T and numerous entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to mitigate threats, enhance weaknesses or capitalize on opportunities in their operations. Ultimately, the MBA-L program teaches students how to be self-sufficient and lifelong learners who are capable of working alone or in conjunction with others up, down, across and even outside the organization to achieve results that are personally and organizationally valuable while maintaining the highest ethical standards. We teach students to follow Gandhi's advice to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

The UC MBA-L program is based on the notion that leadership development is personal and engaging, not clinical and detached. It is holistic and integrated rather than de-coupled and isolated. Although the acquisition and refinement of skills are important, the acquisition of new mindsets, mental models and paradigms is paramount. Thus, at UC leadership development is not teaching about leaders or even leadership. We follow Peter Drucker's advice to teach them how to manage the most important brand of all — the brand called you — constantly imploring them to realize that you must first manage yourself before you can manage others.

The MBA-L is a 16-month, full time, cohort-based program that is for recent graduates, functional specialists (engineers, accountants, economics and people from the physical sciences), career changers or anyone else who is now or soon will be in the position to use both functional business skills and “people skills” rather than technical expertise to achieve personal and organizational objectives. It is not necessary to have an undergraduate business degree to enroll or thrive in our program because the courses are taught in a non-traditional manner and grounded in the principles of adult transformative and experiential learning.

Recently a McKinsey & Co. survey of 500 executives found that leadership development was consistently ranked in the top three current and future priorities. Almost two-thirds of the respondents identified leadership development as their No. 1 concern. The UC MBA-L program not only addresses this issue, but it also provides an answer to the question, “Why should anyone be led by you?”

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