A new twist on leadership creates fresh perspectives in Indianapolis businesses

June 27th, 2012 | SMWC

MLD students
MLD students analyze real-world business and leadership
issues to develop innovative strategies.

Leadership isn’t about the position or power; it’s about the person.

“Society tends to view the success of an organization based on its CEO,” said Susan Decker, director of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s Master of Leadership Development (MLD) program, “but the reality is that CEOs need good leadership at every level to be successful.”

Practical Application

Take, for example, Bridgette Sanders, a subject matter expert at WellPoint, N.G.S., in Indianapolis, Ind. When her coworkers began succumbing to stress, Saunders didn’t just sit idly by, waiting for someone, namely human resources, to swoop in and save the day.

“I created a work/life balance workshop for my cultural psychology class in the MLD program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC),” Sanders said. “It went so well that I took it to my manager at WellPoint. She gave it the thumbs up and now we’ve developed it in a series of workshops.”

Over coffee and takeout, Sanders and her coworkers explore ways to be proactive, communicate responsibly and adapt smoothly to change. Her success is just one example of how MLD students are energizing their organizations with a new kind of leadership – one that emphasizes principles, not positions.

“It has less to do with your job title and more to do with the responsibility you take,” Sanders said. “Up, down and across – you can make a difference in any position in an organization.”

Local Influence

With this new twist on leadership, these students are creating ripples in many prominent Indianapolis companies. Employees from General Electric, Hawker Beechcraft, Hoosier Energy, PepsiCo Frito-Lay, YMCA and a whole charge of forces from Eli Lilly have seized the most recent MLD Indianapolis cohort. “I looked into an MBA, but it didn’t meet my needs,” said Stephanie Byrde, manager for global medical communication at Eli Lilly. “I heard others at Lilly enrolled in MLD talking about how much they liked it.”

With an eclectic menagerie of bachelor’s degrees, from nursing to aeronautics to Spanish, this cohort is developing a colorful palette for dealing with the unexpected. In the end, that’s really what leadership is all about – interdisciplinary solutions. Both hospitals and horse farms need strategic plans. Both food and pharmaceutical companies need balanced budgets. MLD operates off the ideal that every organization, without exception, needs effective leaders at all levels.


MLD students meet primarily online, but, as a cohort, do frequently meet for seminars and group projects.

Personal Experiences

As the clinical operations manager at Eli Lilly, Judy Hund’s leadership is only as strong as her team. Since her office might be in her car on Monday, a hotel room on Wednesday and a boardroom on Friday, she can’t always be there to signal the starting line. “I’ve learned how to empower my staff,” she began. “I’m a better motivator in encouraging them to take on their own leadership roles.”

For Byrde, developing fresh, flexible leadership skills is like opening an endless pile of presents. “MLD has given me techniques I use everyday at Lilly,” she said. “If an issue arises, I have a lot of tools to pull from.”

Like master carpenters, these students build upon a foundation of traditional leadership, but their tools are a far cry from typical concrete and plaster. Their approach is holistic, their techniques are inventive and their success is undeniable. Using courses in ethical decision-making and critical analysis, they turn plans into actions and actions into advantages – for themselves, their communities and their employers.

For Eric Hubbard, quality manager at Hawker Beechcraft, professional growth was expected; personal growth was a surprise. “The expectations from my supervisors have changed since I began MLD,” he explained. “I’ve been given teaching assignments and have led big projects, opportunities I wouldn’t have had without this master’s program.”


Eric Hubbard has tackled bigger projects at work thanks to his leadership development classes.

Hubbard’s big “A-ha!” moment came during his thesis project. “I realized, as a leader, you have to get up and effect change.” Leaders don’t just improve companies; they also improve communities. Soon Hubbard will launch a not-for-profit that pairs up struggling high school bands with successful ones, throwing in a few professional musicians for good measure. “I came up with it for my capstone project,” he said. “I’ve been able to take an idea and form it into something real.”

Hubbard isn’t the only student using leadership development to elevate both his professional and personal life. For Tammy Martin, strategic purchasing agent at Hoosier Energy REC, broadening her expertise in MLD “opens new doors and helps move me to the next level.” The more these master’s students elevate themselves as leaders, the more eager they are to take on challenges at work. They see their jobs in a whole new light.

“We use real workplace scenarios,” Decker explained. “They learn from the professors and, most importantly, each other. Working with this diverse group of colleagues they develop multiple perspectives.”

More Than an MBA

More than an MBA, MLD looks at the whole person. Yes, students take staple business courses such as financial management and strategic planning, but they also analyze ethical accountability, understand organizational systems and explore innovative technology.

So, how are these students balancing a master’s program, while working 40, 60 or even 80 hours a week? The one-year program is conducted online, with several face-to-face group seminars and live webinars. This hybrid model is ideal for busy professionals who want a master’s without giving up their jobs or family responsibilities. Students also have the option of choosing an organizational or a not-for-profit focus.

On one hand the program is, according to Sanders, “liberating and life-changing.” On the other hand, according to Byrde, the program requires focus and discipline. These students and graduates are not only changing the way businesses think about leadership, they are changing the way leaders think about leadership.

“Leadership needs to be present every day in our work,” Hund said. “It doesn’t matter your position or where you work, good leaders are good for companies.”

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