Creating More Responsible Leaders – Albers School of Business and Economics

Rahwa Habte, the first Red Winged Leadership Award winner honored by the GLFS program.

At Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University in the USA, a small group of faculty and staff created a course where leadership, business acumen, and social impact overlap. The Graduate Leadership Formation Specialization requires a minimum of two courses on leadership and a practicum that provides a forum for participants to explore and master aspects of leadership theory and behaviour. It also provides an avenue to feature, learn from, and celebrate a range of responsible leaders in the community. I recently had the chance to speak to Dr. Jennifer Marrone, who is responsible for the GLFS programme.

  1. Briefly describe the Graduate Leadership Formation Specialization.

The Graduate Leadership Formation Specialization (GLFS) is a program for a select group of Albers Professional MBA students to explore leadership issues, develop and hone leadership skills, and practice leadership behaviours in a carefully designed learning environment. The program includes a year-long leadership formation course wherein students are challenged to find and recognise local leaders who make a significant impact on people, organisations, and the greater community. From this challenge, the “Red Winged Leadership” brand and tradition were born, entirely from student ideas and initiative. Red Winged Leaders enhance the lives of others through a unique intersection of leadership skills, business acumen, and a heightened sense of social responsibility. The GLFS program hopes to bring awareness to Albers students and faculty, Seattle University, and the greater Seattle community regarding the difference that Red Winged Leadership can make.

  1. How did the class come about? Why was it created and what impact do you hope it will have on students?

The program was initially designed in 2006 by a small group of Albers faculty and staff, and first launched in 2007. The purpose of our endeavors was to create a new curriculum that would intentionally, purposely, and innovatively connect student learning experiences to the last part of Seattle University’s mission statement, “…to empower leaders for a just and humane world.” The intended impact on students is multi-faceted. We hope students will gain the following from the GLFS program:

  • To develop tangible skills and knowledge from the Leadership discipline not offered in other courses.
  • To access, leverage, and learn from the Albers School’s network of business professionals.
  • To engage in a significant and meaningful leadership experience that can grow each student internally and differentiate him or her externally.
  • To leave with a more holistic picture of what it means to be a graduate of Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, which includes a deeper understanding of the Seattle University mission and the impact that leaders can – and are – having towards the greater good.
  1. What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

One early challenge was finding the “right” content to include within the year-long leadership formation course. This year-long course needs to effectively build upon a variety of other core and elective courses within our Professional MBA programme, as well as provide content that is both academically rigorous and practically-oriented. It took a few iterations before we settled on content that would a) effectively complement and extend leadership content offered in our other MBA courses, and b) be well-suited for experiential learning (in that it offers rich opportunities for students to readily apply it as they actively lead and work in teams).

One big success has been the continued and increasing interest in the program. Through the years, the vision of the GLFS programme has become clearer and student interest has remained strong. Our biggest successes, however, have been demonstrated by the drive and accomplishments of the students themselves. By their own initiative they have garnered the necessary resources to honor 12 amazing leaders with the Seattle community, establish an increasingly well-known and well-respected brand and logo (the Red Winged Leadership Award), and they have touched literally hundreds of business professionals, community leaders, students, and faculty through their fundraising and word of mouth efforts to support Red Winged Leaders. The students’ year-end Red Winged Leadership Award event in May, which displays the GLFS efforts of each year, is well attended (ranging from 150-350 in attendance) and is increasingly well-known within Seattle University and the Seattle community.

  1. What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place.

My general advice would be “if you are thinking of designing something like this, go for it!” As a member of the group that designed the GLFS programme and as the current instructor of our year-long course within it, I can honestly say that the impact this programme has had on my students, our community, and even myself, was beyond what I imagined it could be. This has been one of the most rewarding teaching and learning experiences I have had to date, and many of our GLFS students have said the same.

More specific advice is that once the framework and basic foundation is designed, let the students themselves “drive” their own experience. I have found that when students are empowered (and they have the requisite skills and knowledge to proceed), they can accomplish truly amazing things together. When given the opportunity to fully utilise their contacts, resources, and motivation, their own leadership should drive their self-set goals and choice of activities through “true” experiential learning. All that said, it is critically important that the design of the programme (content, team structures, learning objectives and expectations, etc.) is thoughtful and clear so that the students can truly excel in their efforts.

  1. What are the next steps for the programme?

Our next steps always include a continued consideration of how to best keep the GLFS programme and its now signature event – the Red Winged Leadership Award – fresh sustainable, and innovative. This may include modifying the scope of the leadership challenge to focus on honoring a specific category of leaders that might otherwise be under-recognised, such as youth leaders or women leaders. Also, we are considering ways to “circle-back” with previously honored leaders and directly involve those leaders again into the current GLFS programme, either through guest lecturers or student advising. Third, the GLFS students themselves are considering ways to increase the scope of their impact, such as fundraising efforts to support future student leaders in Albers (e.g. the establishment of student scholarship). Collectively, we are continuing to build upon our traditions of the GLFS program, while also innovating and creating new ways to learn about leadership and honor it in Seattle. Finally, in 2014, the Albers Professional MBA programme is changing through significant curriculum redesign. As such, the GLFS programme will consider how our current curriculum needs to adapt to the changing needs of our MBA programme and our future students.


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