Two Canadian schools, among 30 institutions recognized for innovative practices in business education, are being lauded for introducing new strategies to teach and train future leaders.
For its annual list of “innovations that inspire” issued last week, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, a U.S.-based global accrediting body, named the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business for a customized executive MBA tailored for promising employees at Telus Corp. The other Canadian winner, the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School in London, Ont., was recognized for an intensive, experiential leadership course for business undergraduate students and developed with current and former top Canadian military leaders who have war zone experience.
“We feel it is our responsibility in a changing world to facilitate and drive change in business education,” says Dan LeClair, AACSB executive vice-president and chief strategy and innovation officer, of the “innovations that inspire” showcase introduced three years ago. Beyond accreditation, his organization recently adopted an expanded mission to promote curriculum reform. “Ultimately we want to make business education a force for good and enable global prosperity in a broader context than just wealth creation,” he says.
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The Canadian schools, he says, signal two emerging global trends in business education: increased collaboration between business schools and industry and a rise in experiential opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom.
“We are breaking some boundaries that have been around for a long time,” says Mr. LeClair.
For example, in 2015 Gustavson reimagined the traditional executive MBA model that delivers training to mid-career people from various industry sectors in the same classroom. In response to a request for proposals from Telus, the school tailored a new two-year program, delivered in the classroom and online for a cohort of 20 employees, identified as corporate up-and-comers and nominated by the telecommunications company.
“The [Telus] participants are highly engaged and motivated,” says Gustavson dean Saul Klein. “The faculty feeds off that, and that creates a powerful learning cycle. The projects they are doing are tailored to fit real issues that the organization is going through.”
Telus screens candidates based on their company track record, community service and corporate leadership potential, but the business school applies university academic criteria to determine who joins the program. The company pays almost all of the tuition costs, with an expectation that graduates remain with Telus for several years after graduation.
Class members are drawn from across Telus operations in four provinces, remain in their jobs but also receive time off to attend seven residential sessions at Gustavson over the two-year period. Between classroom sessions, students work in team-based, online collaborations, sign in for faculty-led webinars and take a study abroad trip as part of the course.
Gustavson faculty sign a confidentiality agreement so that, in addition to teaching MBA course content, they have access to Telus data required for class projects on company problems.
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“The return has been phenomenal compared to the investment,” says Dan Pontefract, program director for the Telus MBA and the company’s so-called chief envisioner. “We recognized wins and gains and cost efficiencies,” he adds, with three additional cohorts now scheduled by the company.
Through class assignments, he estimates the initial cohort identified $33-million in operational savings for Telus along with identifying an eye-catching $300-million in potential new revenue over time. As well, 35 per cent of the first Telus MBA class have earned promotions to new roles at the company.
“We are future-proofing our pipeline of leaders,” he says.
Unlike Gustavson, Ivey developed a new leadership course several years ago as an elective for those still in school. Largely delivered outdoors, Leadership Under Fire is a five-day intensive program for 40 undergraduate business students (split between male and female) in their first year of a two-year honours business administration degree.
“In academia we talk a lot about leadership but when it comes to leadership there is a big difference between talking and actually doing,” says Gerard Seijts, executive director of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at Ivey, and a researcher on the traits of successful leaders.
Five years ago, he and a fellow Ivey professor developed the course in collaboration with former top Canadian Forces military leaders who have combat experience overseas.
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Students work in four teams of 10 people to perform tasks that test their ability to lead others and solve problems under deadline in circumstances (including mild sleep and food deprivation) that test their physical, emotional and mental stamina. Through a combination of the outdoors activities (which includes some camping out under a tarpaulin), faculty lectures and mentorship by the retired military leaders, students apply what they learn through several days of hardship to a business setting.
David Quick, chief executive officer of Pathfinder Leadership Associates, is a retired Canadian Forces Lt.-Colonel and Star of Military Valour recipient who led more than 20 combat missions in Afghanistan. He and fellow-retired elite officers assist Ivey in delivering the course, with each student team expected to assess and reflect on their performance on each task.
“There is a military-esque flavour [to the course] because it is easy to get people in large groups to bond and connect and follow specific directions, but the content has nothing to do with the military,” he says. The student assignments, he adds, “are fun, challenging, mentally draining and emotionally troubling and deal with the friction of people and how you lead people.”
During the exercises, each team member has an opportunity to lead, with the military mentors and Ivey faculty offering feedback to students as individuals and in groups. Students are also assessed by peers on their leadership strengths and weaknesses exhibited under pressure.
The course mark is entirely based on a 25-page reflection paper completed several weeks after the outdoor experience, with students expected to map their next steps in building their capacity as leaders.
“I tell the students that this a formative course but above all a transformative course in terms of your leadership and your self-discoveries,” says Dr. Seijts. Initially designed for undergraduates, the course may soon be offered as an MBA elective
As an Ivey business undergraduate, David Brooks signed up for the leadership elective in 2015 and praises its simulation of real-time “high-stress” situations that “allow for leaders to actually develop and allows you to see a completely different side of leadership.”
Now on Ivey’s faculty, Mr. Brooks says the course spurred him to reflect on his leadership style that he describes as a “bit too controlling.” Through the course, he adds, “I had to learn when it was time for me to lead and when it was time to allow others to lead.”
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