Graduate-Level Leadership Development

The December 15th, 2017 issue of Fortune magazine has an interesting article in its Special Advertising Section.  The title is “Educating the Next Generation of Business Leaders” and it explains how business schools are “offering innovative advanced degree programs aimed at developing the leaders of tomorrow.”  It’s worth reading.  I recommend it.

Obviously, this is an interest of mine as well.  I’m an instructor in the Master of Engineering program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).  Leadership skill development has been a point of emphasis within our Information Engineering and Management (IEM) track from its inception.  Our interest really accelerated, though, sometime around 2005 as years of feedback showed us that our graduates placed very high value on two particular outcomes: (1) Building a high-quality professional network within the business/technology community and (2) significantly developing their professional skill sets (leadership, communication, teamwork, and critical thinking).

In addition to teaching, I was also doing some consulting work at the time on strategic planning and curriculum development.  We were looking at data. And what we were seeing was that our students, all of whom were working professionals, were already pretty solid on the technical side and, to a considerable extent, on the management side.  They were gaining valuable incremental knowledge – which is good – but it was often more breadth than depth.  Even so, unexpectedly, many of them were telling us that the program had, literally, been “life changing.”  How so?

They were discovering or developing capabilities that came as a surprise to them.  The way we ran the program was more of a consulting model where our students were treated as clients.  We were not just teaching – we were also coaching and mentoring.

The result?  Nascent leadership skills were developing.  Fear of public speaking was diminishing.  Working in groups and on teams was becoming second nature – nearly every class required it – and they benefited from working with professional colleagues from other companies who brought diverse skills and insights to every project.

I’m not saying we were the only ones accomplishing this, but we did seem to be leading the way on the engineering side.  Graduate programs that are focused on working professionals should definitely include courses and course work that develops leadership and other professional skills.  It adds excellent value to the programs.  And it’s something that we, as educators and mentors, should constantly study and improve upon.