Unique M.B.A. Programs Build Leadership Skills

Looking to enhance your management style? These courses will teach you how.

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Being an effective leader is a critical trait for business executives. These unique M.B.A. courses offer unusual ways to help you hone your skills to become a successful leader.

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At the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, students can channel their inner actors with "Leadership and Theatre: Ethics, Innovations and Creativity." Actors, like business leaders, need to be true to themselves before they can persuade an audience, course instructor Ed Freeman says.

"I think being authentic, knowing who you are and working on trying to be more in touch with your emotions, that's what leadership's about," Freeman says.

Participants in the 24-member class get a hands-on lesson that effective leadership is as necessary in acting as it is in business when they put on a community performance, the finale to the course.

"It's not just words and PowerPoint," Freeman says. "You're feeling it because you're doing it."

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Darden graduate Akanksha Manik Talya, who had no acting experience before taking the class, said the hands-on approach gave her skills that she uses every day as a consultant at Deloitte.

"There is probably not any class that I look back on, in all my education, which has taught me more about leadership," she says. "I am much more conscious of the things that you should be thinking while you're working with people."

At Duke University Fuqua School of Business, leadership development is more than a class, says professor Joseph LeBoeuf; it is a culture.

"It's not just a journey of education," he says. "It's a two-year, transformative experience that's orchestrated to [make students] become better leaders."

Through the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics, students have a variety of elective leadership courses from which to choose, like LeBoeuf's "Managerial Effectiveness." One mandatory program for full-time M.B.A. students is "Getting Along and Getting It Right: Consequential Leadership in Action," an intense weeklong conference that kicks off the students' second year of school.

The week "creates experiences to force [students] out of their comfort zones" to teach leadership skills, LeBoeuf says. Activities include improvisational leadership sessions, interactive theatre performances on business issues, and an elaborate, scripted court hearing complete with costumed students playing the prosecutors, defendants, judges, and jury. All the second year students are put on trial for "failure to use their graduate experience for developmental purposes" and must develop plans to enhance their education. One plan may ultimately be funded and implemented by the school.

During the week, students also hear from three prominent speakers in the business and military fields about utilizing effective leadership in demanding settings. (General David Petraeus has been a keynote speaker in the past, though he will be unable to attend this year because of his new job, LeBoeuf says.)

Fuqua graduate Max Dufour, who took one of LeBoeuf's classes, says LeBoeuf's commingling of military and business helped him develop sharp leadership skills.

"There was more of a sense of urgency to getting [problems] right," Dufour said. "In the military you see lives on the line, and [that's] not necessarily [the case] in business. You put more passion into it."

At the University of California Riverside School of Business Administration, students take an introspective approach in "Leadership, Communications, Ethics and Teamwork."

In that class, students use tools and tests to gather in-depth assessments of their personal psyches, course professor Roger Conway says. Conway, previously of the Center for Creative Leadership, a global executive education organization, then coaches students individually to channel their strengths into leading abilities.

"You have to really understand what your gifts are and how to leverage your gifts in such a way that you can derive results from other people," he says.