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MBA students learning to develop leadership culture

Tim Elmore
Dr. Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders and author of the best-selling book "Habitudes," speaks to Cottrell MBA students about how to effectively develop a leadership culture.

Students in the Cottrell MBA program at the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Mike Cottrell College of Business have discussed issues from leadership to operations management as a variety of guest speakers have brought real business cases to the classroom this semester.

This month, Dr. Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders and author of the best-selling book "Habitudes," examined the differences between a "leadership cult" and a "leadership culture."

"A cult is a group devoted and dependent on a central leader to instigate change, whereas a culture is a community of shared qualities and values that foster change," Elmore said when speaking to Dr. Wendy Walker's class on leadership and motivation on Oct. 16. "You will be in a position one day where you will be creating one of these; a leadership culture is an environment that contagiously affects people to think and act like authentic leaders, and if you can teach a person to think like a leader, they become better at whatever it is they do."

Elmore encouraged the students to examine themselves to find out "which way their needles are leaning," be it more toward a cult, or a culture, and guided them through the process of how to create a successful culture. This included tactics such as how to lead others based on their personalities and how to recognize when a culture has reached "critical mass," or the minimum percentage of contributing people needed for a culture to sustain itself.

"One of the benefits of exposing MBA students to topics like organizational culture is that they have a chance to think and talk about the values that they want to exhibit," Walker said. " Making these decisions ahead of time, while also discussing and practicing how to deal with the obstacles that can arise in the workplace, can make leaders feel more confident about creating the culture that they think is right for the organization."

Walker also said that it is important for leaders to examine the implications for their roles in leadership positions.

"Being more self-aware will help students identify development opportunities, and will help them become more effective leaders," Walker said.

On Oct. 30, the Cottrell MBA program will host Aaron Beam during its Dinner and Dialogue event sponsored by the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership. Beam, co-founder and former chief financial officer of HealthSouth, spent three months in federal prison after admitting to authorities that he and other HealthSouth leaders had committed corporate fraud. Beam, who also testified against then-CEO Richard Scrushy when the criminal activity was revealed, now speaks at many business schools to help students avoid his mistakes. This semester, several Cottrell MBA classes have completed case studies on ethical decision making that relate to the case Beam will present.

"Our students read and hear about ethical triumphs and failures on a daily basis — having someone of Aaron's stature coming to talk to them directly about how his situation unfurled, how it affected him and why he made the decision that he did makes it a much more personal experience for them," said Rose Procter, director of UNG's BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership. "They can self-examine while listening to him to see how they might have responded in Aaron's place, empathize with him in how the situation impacted his life, and ultimately understand the critical-thinking around Aaron's choices and plan for possible situations in the future where they may need to step up and do the right thing."

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