» MEETING THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
How do you train the next generation of leaders? What will future business leaders need to know, do, be?
These questions and many others form the basis for the academic journey taken by Robert Lengel, associate dean of executive education and director of the college's Center for Professional Excellence (CPE).
Lengel has spent the bulk of his career pursuing the nature of leadership. He and his colleagues in the CPE have watched leadership development programs fall short in creating leaders who impact their organizations. In response, the CPE was established as a living laboratory to study how to nurture leaders.
"Leaders are natural. Everyone has leadership potential. The challenge is creating the conditions for its emergence," said Lengel, associate professor of management.
As the French novelist Marcel Proust wrote "the only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." The CPE is looking at the leadership development challenge with new eyes and has become the home for transformational leadership experiences. And, the most visible program where these concepts are explored is the college's Executive MBA (EMBA) program.
"As executives you don't always get a chance to experiment and try new things," said Hal Adams, EMBA '12, vice president of retail merchandising at Valero. "The EMBA program allows you to express your creativity through new language, new ways of thinking and new ways to conduct conversations."
The college's EMBA, a 21-month lockstep program for seasoned professionals, is a personal learning journey that invites participants into a learning community to explore foundational business topics within the context of a personal leadership inquiry.
"I valued the uniqueness of the program," said LaSalle Vaughn, EMBA '12, a director within external affairs at USAA. "Combining creativity with business and offering us a platform to practice those skills has been vital to my leadership development."
"The Executive MBA program was a gift, an opportunity to reflect and be introspective," said Tammy Mallaise, EMBA '12, director of employment and labor relations at Zachry Industrial, Inc. "Exploring my personal leadership edges and how these can manifest themselves to benefit an entire organization was the most meaningful part of the experience."
In addition to traditional coursework in accounting, marketing, finance and economics, leadership is a note played throughout the curriculum. "The focus is not on leadership development, but is on setting the conversational stage—ultimately creating the culture to allow leaders to emerge in the context of doing leadership work," said Lengel. "We help students be more open minded, more accepting of diversity of thoughts, more creative and, in general, to be more able to think in complex ways."
The EMBA program begins each semester with a two-day leadership seminar that employs dialogic and experiential methods to set the context for the program. Coursework in management and behavior in organizations, organizations in transition and social issues in business build on those concepts.
"The program makes you push the boundaries of what you think you can do," said Tracy Jackson, '93, EMBA '12, vice president of finance and treasurer at Tesoro. "A lot of leaders are driven by a fear of failure. Experiences such as the ropes course or singing in front of an audience pushed us out of our comfort zone. We realized that even those things that we fear are not insurmountable."
A unique element in this leadership journey is the incorporation of the arts throughout the curriculum. Students worked with poets, created artwork, sang, acted and participated in martial arts. Incorporating these elements allow the students to metaphorically explore leadership concepts while opening their minds to new possibilities.
"You can't learn leadership on paper, you have to act it out," said Joseph Lopez, EMBA '09, a physician with Alamo City Medical Group. "We were challenged to leave our comfort zone by singing, dancing and acting."
"The leadership components serve as a practice lab for the students to develop a leadership mindset," said Kandis Larkey, EMBA '04 and associate director of the EMBA. "Students begin to shift the language used to convey leadership concepts and explore the capacities necessary to steward the organizations commons."
Learning to think more strategically and in more complex ways is a core leadership capacity addressed in the EMBA program. Managers are traditionally called upon to solve problems by simplifying the issue. In contrast, leaders must be able to adapt—to see the bigger picture to keep their organizations competitive.
"Strategic intelligence is a big part of my role, how do we deal with our stores, customers and our brand," said Adams. "Management is today, this reporting period. Leadership is a bigger vision. Are we thinking further down the path, building something that is sustainable?"
"Before this program, leadership was out of my skillset," said Nate Barber, EMBA '09, vice president at Barber & Barber Associates, an engineering consulting firm. "I would instruct and manage. Now I work to lead by example to encourage and empower people."
While leaders are thought of as omnipotent, the EMBA encourages students to suspend their perspectives on business, to be unorthodox in their thinking and to find answers by asking questions.
"I've learned to ask the right questions, see the bigger picture and learn how to interact with individuals with different perspectives," said Bernard Arulanandam, EMBA '07, associate dean of research for scientific innovation and the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor of Biology at UTSA. "I've learned how to have those difficult conversations, to listen more and take in different points of view."
With almost 400 graduates, the UTSA College of Business Executive MBA has been successful in planting the seeds that will allow leadership to flourish for their graduates, their companies and San Antonio.
"Throughout the EMBA program we referred to a metaphor from Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about experiencing life from inside the compartment of a car or on a cycle where the experience is more alive," said William Di Filippo, '91, EMBA '11, senior vice president at Frost. "The UTSA EMBA program provides the foundational concepts and skills required to be successful in business and makes them alive and meaningful for individuals in the context of today's organizations."