About the MBA in Leadership

Think back to your worst boss. It could be the cranky owner from the local greasy spoon where you used to flip burgers for cash during undergrad. Or it could be your very first post-grad job where you quickly became overworked and underappreciated. Was it a new supervisor after your well-deserved promotion?

Now, imagine what all those jobs would have been like if your boss wasn’t a total jerk.

You can be the boss you wish you’d had and inspire office morale, change and growth as an effective leader with an MBA in leadership.

Why an MBA in leadership?

interview with mba in leadership graduate One of the major appeals of this degree is, “the ability students have to specialize and build an expertise,” said Marcus Hanscom, director of the cohort program in the College of Business at the University of New Haven.

“MBA’s can be a dime a dozen, but by being able to specialize, students are able to differentiate themselves from those with general MBA’s,”

Marcus explained that New Haven’s Emerging Leader Cohort program allows professionals to expand their portfolio with the option to choose from concentrations like business policy or strategic leadership. Students can further develop their expertise in a specific subject area such as human resources, organizational studies or entrepreneurship.

Other programs, like the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, require leadership coursework during the second year of MBA programs. Students establish a curriculum that concentrations on technical skills for industries such as finance or marketing throughout the entire program, and incorporate leadership skills where necessary. The school is considered an overall place for leadership, according to Professor James Clawson.

“Students can also design their own areas of foci with up to four courses in any area including leadership. We design our curriculum so that it’s all about general management and enterprise leadership. If you come here, that’s your focus, not one particular discipline. These days, companies are looking for leaders who can show exemplary skills.”

He also notes that management styles are changing as millennials are entering the workplace. There is less of a “one size fits all” solution and companies with managers who have MBA’s in leadership will flourish during this time of transition.   

mba in leadership student perspectiveLily West, first year student at Darden, already loves her experience. Lily graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in political science and journalism. After graduating, she worked in TV for two years at ABC and MSNBC. She then worked on the Obama campaign and after the inauguration she went to work at the Department of Energy.

So why did she mix it up with a business program?

“I became fascinated with the idea of learning how businesses operate in the for-profit sector and I needed a tool kit to equip me with the right skills. The MBA in leadership is a two-pronged approach. It not only teaches you the tools of leadership, but it demands you to employ those tools every single day. It doesn’t teach you the formula of leadership, but instead, gives you the foundation and the confidence you need to learn leadership by doing.”

Do I need a special background?

Some schools require an applicant to have a minimum of five years professional experience to be considered for admission. At New Haven however, no such requirement is necessary. Because of their flexibility, some students are fresh out of undergrad while others have hefty business-dominated resumes. Although that’s not to say students don’t come from varied professional backgrounds with careers in nursing, law and pharmaceuticals.
In order to accommodate each student and their individual academic abilities, students can place out of core classes and move on to more challenging curriculum. This is a huge bonus for those with bachelor’s degrees in accounting, finance and other MBA friendly fields.

Students with a non-business background can pad their skills even before they begin. Lily, for example, enrolled in a local community college and completed an accounting course to gain an advantage in the classroom. 

What can I do with this degree in Leadership?

Erika James, associate professor at Darden, explains the various routes graduates can take. “There’s certainly been a transition with people saying to us they want to own a company someday and choose the entrepreneur route; then there are a percentage of students who do that right out of grad school. Popular career tracks include consulting, investment banking and marketing.

Overall Erika emphasized the importance of what MBA programs teach students. “The expectation is that our students will become grounded and excel at all functions of business: finance, accounting, marketing, leadership and communications.”

What are the potential downsides?

From time to time, Marcus sees students struggle during the required math-oriented courses. Even though that’s where students “can freeze up a bit” the college offers tutoring services and it doesn’t hinder students from achieving their goals.

As with any grad program, costs are an important factor for many students. Although the would-be student is relying on a lighter piggy bank due to current economic factors, Marcus continues to see an uptick in the number of applicants.

For Lily, there’s no clear-cut advantage or disadvantage.

“Everyone brings something different to the table. There are some classes where I can’t bring as much to the table, but in other classes, I can showcase my skills. At the end of the day, we all come out exactly even. It actually helps diversify and enhance the learning environment."

What’s the best advice?

“Students have to visit schools and experience the campus culture. Find a program with students and faculty who strive to reach the same goals and objectives you plan to achieve with a teaching and learning style that best suits you,”

As someone who teaches at Darden, Erika explained that it’s largely a case based school and is mainly about being actively engaged and sharing their experiences in the classroom.

Lily leaves us with this advice,

“Searching for the right program can be a long process, but it’s well worth it. It’s not just about finding a great academic program; it has to be an academic program that reflects your values.”

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