An Inside Look at the MBA@UNC Leadership Initiative

To develop highly effective leaders who achieve outstanding results, MBA@UNC offers a Leadership Initiative that can be uniquely customized to fit each student’s specific career goals. This initiative, which is offered in every University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler MBA program, gives students a valuable opportunity to gain strategic leadership skills through practice, feedback and coaching.

Although the Leadership Initiative began with the on-campus program, it’s proven to be very successful online. So what does the Leadership Initiative entail? Shawnice Meador, director of career management and leadership development at MBA@UNC, discussed this unique initiative and how it sets MBA@UNC apart from other online MBA programs.

Tailoring the Leadership Initiative to Online Education

An emphasis on leadership development is nothing new for UNC Kenan-Flagler. Meador emphasized that leadership development has been Kenan-Flagler’s focus for a number of years. In fact, Kenan-Flagler was one of the first top-20 business schools to integrate the concept of a leadership program into their educational experience.

UNC Kenan-Flagler has been committed to constantly pushing the envelope in terms of innovation, which is one reason the school embraced the idea of offering MBA@UNC. While applying the Leadership Initiative to a newer online model, UNC Kenan-Flagler worked to ensure the leadership program was just as powerful as its on-campus counterpart. According to Meador, one thing that distinguishes Kenan-Flagler from other business programs is that it doesn’t take a “cookbook approach.” For Kenan-Flagler students, there is no one-size-fits-all model to learning. Students participating in the Leadership Initiative have the opportunity to choose from different learning options to fulfill the requirements of the initiative. “What we have is a menu-based approach to leadership development,” Meador said. “Currently we have over 100 different items in our Leadership Initiative, and students understand what is available to them. 

Someone younger in his or her career might be interested in a more emerging leader type of development. Someone further along in their career may be more interested in looking into executive recruiting or understanding what those nuanced differences are when it comes to ‘derailers’ for success. We build that menu approach, and students custom build their own leadership development experience while they’re here.” She added that she has yet to hear of that kind of approach at another top-20 business school, on campus or online.

Applying an Individualized Approach to Leadership

To develop influential leadership skills, students need to go beyond the traditional concept of classroom learning. “I see students being particularly successful, when they take ownership of not only the learning, but absorbing that learning, applying that learning and being very conscious and rigorous about that application,” Meador said. “They have to own their own development. They can’t expect their boss to do it. They can’t expect their professor to do it for them. They truly have to have a plan for themselves.”

The key, Meador said, is for students to understand what tools and resources they can leverage to help them make coursework relevant to their individual goals. Erik Sneed, MBA@UNC class of 2013, is one student who has experienced firsthand the benefits of the Leadership Initiative’s tailored approach. As a project manager at Harrah’s Casino in Western Carolina, Sneed was able to put the knowledge he obtained at Kenan-Flagler into action.

Because of his MBA@UNC experience, Sneed felt more confident in his decision-making abilities and better equipped to help his company exceed its goals. Furthermore, his education enabled him to make his own entrepreneurial aspirations come true. “A dream of mine, and an ambition of mine, was to start my own company,” Sneed said.

"The skills that I learned through the program allowed me to not only start up a company but enter into contracts with my employer and with our local government. It broadened my knowledge base of business practices and principles to basically propel me into the world of entrepreneurship.” -Eric Sneed, MBA@UNC class of 2013

In addition to gaining real-time benefits through online learning, MBA@UNC students are able to access an unparalleled network of thought leaders through the virtual campus. Meador explained that webinars are regularly set up with guest speakers for lively and inspiring in-depth discussions that explore the complex challenges of the business realm. Not only are participants able to hear about a wide variety of professional journeys, but they are also given the chance to ask questions of the guest speakers so that they may benefit from their insight and experience.

“At MBA@UNC, we keep our students and their unique situation in mind when we look at both career management and leadership development,” said Meador. “We help them custom build the roadmap for their own personal leadership development and career management experience while they’re in our program. Hopefully they’ll not only use this during the two or three years that they’re in our program, but they’ll be able to apply it down the road as well.”