Organic Leadership Development

Organic Leadership Development

I am honored today to have the the post that launched LeaderTalk reposted with a fresh introduction by Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership. Dan has been an encouraging supporter for LeaderTalk since the blog’s launch.

I had the pleasure of talking with Dan on the phone last month. He called me at a prearranged time on a weekday afternoon and we enjoyed an hour of sharing our stories and thoughts about leadership. Toward the end of our discussion, I asked Dan an important question: What school comes to mind when you think about leadership education? Before I tell you his answer, I want to ask you the same question. What university do you associate with leadership training and development?

As long as there have been graduate schools, there have been Business Schools and the revered Masters of Business Administration. The degree is so well known and so established that we even call its graduates by the title of their degree; these folks don’t just have MBAs — they ARE MBAs. Maybe you are too.

In our changing world, though, I think it is time for something new.

Miki Saxon at Leadership Turn had a great post yesterday entitled “Composted Leadership.” Her idea is that leadership is best learned in real life situations. She writes:

Leadership learned through doing—taking the initiative and accepting the risk of failure—is different. It combines a variety of experiences, good, bad and indifferent and adds a variety of organisms in the form of the varied humans that populate the organization. The effect of those organisms on the experiences of individual initiative produces a deeper, richer, more flexible form of leadership.

Miki compares leaders produced in colleges and MBA programs to crops produced with chemical fertilizers. Real life experiences, she says, are the compost in which the best leaders grow.

I believe that the “something new” that our world needs are leadership programs like the ones offered at Mountain State University. By bringing people together into cohort groups, we are giving people real life experiences where they can learn about themselves, learn how to work with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, and learn how to work within teams.

While MBA programs may offer some classes in leadership, our programs are all about leadership, focused on the skills people need to work with others effectively within organizations. I believe that they are healthy soil because they involve students in a learning conversation that integrates real life with classroom learning.

Dan’s answer surprised me. He said that no schools came to his mind for leader education. He associates a few schools with business education and MBAs, though. I am hoping that the next time I ask Dan that question — and the next time I ask you — you will remember Mountain State University.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Where is the best place to learn leadership? Is the MBA outdated? Do you agree with me that our world needs something new?

Read The Detail Sorters by Mountain State’s President Dr. Charles H. Polk for more about MBAs, leaders, and considering the impact each group has on an organization’s direction. Don’t forget to visit Great Leadership to read my guest post there. 

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission. 

Filed As:  LeaderTalk, Dan McCarthy

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • I have a bias because I teach leadership at the MBA level. Mine is just one class in a larger program, and our program is a typical MBA and not a leadership program.
    Before this, I spent over 20 years in the composte.
    The vast majority of people I see in my MBA class are not people that came to learn leadership, they are leaders at some point in their career that came back to learn. Most enter my class with no idea how radically I intend to upset everything they have “learned” about leadership in their mediocre organizations.
    My job is to open their minds and hearts to a way to think about leadership and followershp that most have not experienced. It is then their responsibility to practice and develop these things for the rest of their lives.
    For me, the mind and heart are more important than skills. I can teach a monkey skills. But I personally have no interest in teaching skills to someone whose mind and heart are not in the right place. People with expert skills and wrong intentions can do great damage.
    I just play a part, and I am fully aware how small my part is. But it is an important part and in my experience a part most of the folks I meet are not getting somewhere else.
    for what it is worth….

  • Bret —
    Thanks so much for sharing your story and experiences. Your comment raises an interesting question for me about why people pursue MBAs. It seems like the motivation to pursue an MBA must be very different from the one that drives someone toward a degree in leadership.
    I am wondering if there are any readers out there with MBAs who entered the program because they wanted to become more effective leaders. If so, were your expectations fulfilled? MBAs: please share: why did you choose that degree?
    Also, I would love to hear from readers who have (or are pursuing) a Masters in Leadership. Please share your story and motivation for pursuing a leadership degree.

  • Becky, as a lifetime student at Illinois, DePaul and Northwestern-Kellogg (exec ed) and now an MBA instructor at DePaul, I love school for so many reasons, but not one of them is for teaching leadership.
    Leadership is learned by leading. Books (of which I am the author of one) and courses (of which I teach many) are fine for providing context on the role and challenges of leading, but they pale in comparison to the experiences gained by participating in the process. Until you’ve been challenged to motivate, inspire, provide feedback, coach, focus on creating an effective working environment, lead a team through a problem resolution or serve as a leader during a turn-around, it’s darned hard to understand how tough the job really is.
    There are many positives and in my opinion some negatives in today’s MBA education, and I don’t know that “becoming a leader” is an explicit driver for most candidates. Almost all view it as critical to “getting ahead” and something that might lead to leadership, but few of my discussions with students have left me with the impression that their goal was education on becoming a leader. Great instructors like Bret inspire future leaders and as he says, “open their minds and hearts,” and that is a great, great outcome from an MBA instructor.
    With all of that being said, I don’t have experience with Mountain State and perhaps there are some very unique elements of the education experience that offers tremendous value for emerging leaders. I’m hungry to learn more about what your institution is doing in this critical area.
    Thanks so much for your consistently great and thought-provoking posts! -Art

  • As graduate school instructor at Seton Hall University’s M.A. in strategic communication & leadership, I am admittedly biased (it’s also my alma mater).
    When I was evaluating master’s degrees, the MBA was not an option. At the time, the “A” in MBA is what turned me off – I did not want to be an “administrator,” or get bogged down in what I considered to be too much management (practice) and not enough leadership (theory). I want to know the “who” and “why” of leadership, the “what” and “how” is my perception of most MBA curricula.
    What solidified my decision to attend Seton Hall University was the integration of communication with leadership throughout the MASCL program. Seton Hall’s approach to education of mind, heart, and spirit (similar to Bret’s philosophy) presents a holistic view – that who we are as a leader drives what we do and say.
    Now considering my next degree, I’m frustrated by the lack of options along similar leadership/communication tracks as Seton Hall. I’m not interested in Ph.D. – I’m seeking a more pragmatic Ed.D. Until meeting Becky and learning more about Mountain State’s new DEL program, I wasn’t certain that I’d find the right program. I’m excited to consider MSU… and no, this isn’t a paid infomercial =)

  • Fascinating question, Becky. Let me answer in several ways.
    I agree with Miki. Leadership is an apprentice trade. You may get ideas and examples from books and courses. You may be able to develop some specific skills (like active listening) in a classroom. But you learn leadership on the job, by emulating the masters, by trying things and by sucking the value out of your experience.
    Even so, the first school that came to mind when I read your question was West Point. They have produced leaders since the beginning of the Republic, but they’ve become more conscious about how they do it in the last couple of decades. Their goal is to develop the self-identity of a leader so that he or she can function as a leader in a variety of situations.
    If I were looking for colleges that produce leadership, I wouldn’t look at any business schools. I’d look to liberal arts colleges, especially small ones. They generate the kind of self-reflection, analysis and communications skills that are vital for anyone who leads a group. Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, for example, has graduated the highest percentage of individuals who have become CEOs of any undergraduate program.

  • Hi Becky, unfortunately, this post was taken without reference to my previous post, Leadership Is Fertilizer, where I said,“To thrive in today’s world companies need to constantly innovate; innovation requires initiative; initiative is another word for leadership.
    Because initiative and leadership are synonymous, leadership needs to be pushed out of the corner office and spread throughout the organization; doing so will encourage growth, creativity and innovation.”
    I’ve frequently said that leadership is what people do and the books, blogs and classes are where they learn the language to describe it.
    I’ve also strongly disagreed with the notion of exalted leaders whose visions and influence aren’t tempered by strong management skills; they, like Nixon, believe that “If the President does it, it is not illegal.” Those are the types who contributed mightily to the economy’s current sorry state.
    Please join me tomorrow at Leadership Turn for additional thoughts on why leadership and management skills go hand in hand and should not be concentrated in a few positions.

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