George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

Graduate Students Gain Leadership Skills through Transformative Learning Experience

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What does it take to be an effective leader?

Throughout history, many have attempted to figure out what it means to be a good leader. Everyone from Machiavelli to Ghandi has shared their views on the topic. There is an abundance of resources—books, workshops, and seminars—that share the "secrets" of effective leadership and leadership styles. Universities worldwide offer courses on leadership where they delve into the fundamentals, as well as the different styles and models of leadership.

George Mason's School of Business tackles the subject from a slightly different angle in the leadership courses offered to students in the MBA, Executive MBA, MS in Technology Management, and MS in Management of Secure Information Systems (MSIS) programs. The similarly structured courses serve to distinguish between leadership and management and focus on the critical roles and functions of leadership. They also focus on strategies for developing oneself as an effective leader.

The courses take the approach that you can become an effective leader by learning from those who have proven to be effective leaders. Students are given the opportunity to hear frequently from distinguished business professionals on their experiences in the field.

mbacourse2"The use of senior executives as class speakers in the course complements the use of readings, case analysis, and presentations of leadership research findings to offer a truly transformational experience to students as they get exposed to a blend of concepts, empirical evidence, and practical wisdom," says management professor, Richard Klimoski who co-teaches the MSIS leadership course with Roy Hinton, associate dean of executive education at the School of Business. "Students also get the opportunity to integrate these into their own lives by way of the engaging classroom discussions that ensue."

Along with guest speakers, the MSIS course also uses case studies, reading, and lectures to offer a multi-dimensional approach to learning about leadership.  Each speaker presents on different topics related to leadership and after their presentations students are allowed to ask the speakers questions about the topic and their experiences.

"The presentations supplement, enhance, and illustrate the course content," reflects Steven Kim, a student currently enrolled in the MSIS course. "They facilitate our learning as they lift class ideas from the textbooks and class discussions. They add flesh to the bones."

A few of the guest speakers for the MSIS course included Timothy Keenan, who recently sold his company, High Performance Technologies Inc., and School of Business alumni, Eddie Schwartz, chief information security officer at RSA, and Dale Wince, founder and chief executive officer of Knowledge Consulting Group.

"I enjoyed sharing my thoughts and perspectives with Mason students," shares Wince. "Having been a recent graduate student, I also understand the desire of students to see academic concepts applied in 'real-world' applications," he continues. "I believe they were able to see the application of something learned in an academic program that was successfully implemented in an actual company."

Keenan also enjoyed speaking to students about leadership and how to ethically lead others. "During my presentation, I focused on how to define core values and what role they play within the leadership of an ethically driven firm," he says. "The subject of core values and business ethics in leadership are a passion of mine."

While the MSIS leadership course brings in guest speakers periodically throughout the semester, the MBA course features a different business leader as guest speaker for each class. Guest speakers this semester included Tony Nicely, CEO of Geico, and Mike Herreld, president of PNC Bank's Washington region, among other distinguished business leaders from the area.

"This course allows for an open dialogue between the speaker and the students, which is fantastic," says Edward Bersoff, who is co-teaching the MBA course with Dean Jorge Haddock.

A distinguished business leader in his own right, Bersoff is chairman of Greenwich Associates, LLC and has previously served as chairman and CEO ATS Corporation. He also founded and led IT company, BTG, Inc., before selling it in 2001.

Bersoff and Haddock's approach to the course is to allow students to come their own conclusions about leadership by learning through the experiences of others. "There is no cookbook for being a leader," Bersoff notes. "You have to synthesize lots of different inputs and come up with what your basic principles of leadership are. There are things that you can learn from real people in real setting. That's the power of this course."

Another powerful aspect of the course is the opportunity it gives students to interact on a personal level with business executives. Through this interaction students can learn from the experiences of those who have proven themselves in the field.mbacourse

"Not every student will necessarily agree with what I say," says guest speaker, Joseph Kampf, CEO of Covant. "But student learning is about forming one's own opinions about how to set goals and be successful. If I can articulate my experience trail and influence the students thought process, then I have made the best contribution I can."

Unlike finance courses where there are finite answers to problems, leadership courses can be theoretical in nature. The goal of these courses is for students to connect the strategies learned in the classroom with lessons from business leaders who have gone before them and apply their own leadership style in their current or future jobs.

"I have gone to work the next day knowing that what I have learned is directly applicable to my work and personal life," says MBA student, Joe Everling. "Knowing how these leaders think, strategies that make them successful, and how they recovered from failure is a great learning experience. By pulling nuggets from each leader I am able to build my own leadership framework."