SOM debuts leadership program

With the help of a former brigadier general in the U.S. Army, the School of Management has designed a new hands-on leadership development program for its students.

The two-year initiative, which is integrated with the school’s core curriculum, aims to teach leadership skills through a combination of academic coursework and practical experience. Thomas Kolditz, a former Army official who taught at the West Point Military Academy before joining SOM in July 2012 to run the new leadership program, said students will participate in leadership courses and work on a final capstone project, adding that a team of seven coaches will be available to advise students on their leadership progress during one-on-one meetings. SOM administrators said the program differs from its counterparts at peer institutions because of its focus on hands-on rather than theoretical learning.

“Most business schools have leadership development, but what makes our program unique is that it doesn’t pretend that leadership comes primarily through teaching theory or doing a lot of workshops,” said David Bach ’98, SOM senior associate dean for executive MBA and global programs. “At SOM, there is the recognition that most of it comes from experience and practice.”

The final project for the leadership program will allow students to apply their course work to real-world settings. Bach and other administrators said they could not speculate on the specific nature of the capstone projects as the leadership training program is tailored to students’ individual interests, and the first class of students participating in the full program will begin their projects next year.

Current first-year students are the first group to participate in the program’s leadership courses, while second-year students are permitted to participate in some aspects of the program, such as the one-on-one coaching component.

Anjani Jain, SOM senior associate dean for the full-time MBA program, said the school’s curriculum included a leadership development component before Kolditz’s arrival but added that its prior efforts to teach leadership were “less pervasive and less structured.”

Kolditz said most business schools develop leadership skills among their students through classroom teaching, and that leadership programs at other schools are often not mandatory. His program’s length, inclusivity and focus on experiential learning make it unique within U.S. business school circles, he said. He added that he designed the leadership training program with an eye for student diversity within SOM.

“We want students to own their development, which is why the program is highly tailored to each individual within SOM,” he said. “Many of our graduates go to diverse cultures to lead, as opposed to adhering to some imaginary common aspiration.”

After the program’s general infrastructure has been tested during the current academic year, SOM administrators said they plan to customize the initiative to the various degree types the school offers.

Libby Stegger SOM ’13 said she has been able to approach 15 different people involved in the leadership training program for feedback on her leadership skills, adding that she plans to work one-on-one with a coach to “help identify ways to improve and grow.”

“While it was always true that SOM is a leadership lab, [Kolditz’s] strategy for and implementation of the leadership development program offers concrete language, time and support to those who want to hone leadership skills more intentionally,” said Caitlin Sullivan SOM ’13, SOM student government president.

The leadership development program was sponsored by a donation from Forrest E. Mars ’53 and John F. Mars ’57.

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