No one is born a perfect leader, says Associate Professor of Management James C. Segovis, Ph.D. It takes education, training, nurturing, and experience – as well as honesty. In his Senior Leadership Seminar, students study leadership theory and practice, but they're are also required to look within themselves to determine the leader they want to be – and the work they need to do to get there.
“You're taking a lot away from this course, especially right before you're going into the real world,” notes Alison Simboski ’20, who took the course last semester and recently joined the Product Management Early Career Leadership Development Program at The Hartford. “Leadership isn’t just a skill that you use in the workforce, it’s important in every aspect of your life.”
What it means to be a leader
The course incorporates insights from history, organizational theory, philosophy, psychology, and social psychology to help students understand what it means to lead. That grounding in theory also helps them separate fact from fiction. “One of the things the course does is help students frame what leadership really is, versus what they see on TV or in common misconceptions,” explains Segovis.
“I’ve had leaders I really liked and others I didn’t, but I can learn from all of them.”
Perhaps the largest lesson, Segovis says, is that “leadership isn’t about you as a leader. It’s about the people you’re leading.” The job of a leader is to understand the people around them, and how to inspire a group to overcome challenges and reach their full potential, he explains.
“We talked a lot about shared vision this semester, and how that's important.” says Shawn Kilcoyne ’20, a Leadership and Innovation Management major concentrating in Sport Studies. “If everyone’s not working together towards something, then what's the real value in what they’re doing individually?”
Important for everyone
Through the seminar, the students scrutinize case studies and examples of leadership in a variety of professions. Guest lecturers including Bryant alumnus James Brady ’81, Former Chief Operating Officer for Grant Thornton; leadership coach Graham Courtney and author Paul Levy, former President & CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, share advice based on their experiences. "We're not only learning the principles of leadership, we're also getting a better understanding of how real leaders have actually applied them," notes Simboski.
“We have a lot of data on leadership, but you need to have a philosophy as well. I want the students to reflect on: ‘What have you done, and what will you do as a leader?'"
The range of examples helps the students develop a flexible skillset and adaptability to different situations. “One of the biggest things we learned is how to adapt to different people's styles of learning and collaborating,” says Kilcoyne. He especially enjoyed a group project in which students looked in-depth at a leader of their choosing, with subjects ranging from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
The students also examine the leaders they’ve known in their own lives, from teachers to bosses to coaches, and consider what they can learn from their experiences with them. “I had never really reflected like that before,” Kilcoyne says. “I’ve had leaders I really liked and others I didn’t, but I can learn from all of them.”
Defining your own leadership style
The course, however, is about more than gathering information. It’s about taking the lessons you learn and making them your own. “We have a lot of data on leadership, but you need to have a philosophy as well,” says Segovis. “I want the students to reflect on: ‘What have you done, and what will you do as a leader?’”
“I took this course because I knew it would be immediately applicable when I started my career. You need to work hard, but the rewards are definitely there and will definitely help you in your future.”
The students engage in a variety of exercises to help them consider their own leadership style, its implications, and how they can improve as decision makers and ethical leaders. “If you're not able to reflect on yourself then you can't really grow as a person,” explains Simboski. “It's okay to not be perfect, but you need to realize what your weaknesses are and figure out how you’re going to work on them.”
By sharing their insights with one another, the students make new connections. “It’s important to reflect with others because that allows you to see yourself from a different perspective,” Simboski notes.
In a time of uncertainty, the seminar, at its core, helps develop leaders who are ready to face tomorrow. “A good leader gives hope, hope that things will get better,” says Segovis. “That, while it may not be within the next day, the next two weeks, or even the next several months, we will prevail, and we'll come out of this okay.”
His students are prepared to rise to that challenge. “I took this course because I knew it would be immediately applicable when I started my career,” says Kilcoyne. “You need to work hard, but the rewards are definitely there and will definitely help you in your future.”