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Celebrating 20 years of leadership

July 8, 2016
School of Leadership Studies Acting Director Catherine Etmanski (far left) leads a discussion with school faculty and staff members.

Current approaches to leadership are changing from the predominantly authoritative style of decades past. Aligned with this evolution, the School of Leadership Studies at Royal Roads University has been successfully fostering collaborative leaders for the last 20 years.

Launched in July 1996, the Master of Arts in Leadership Training (MALT) program was the first program offered at the newly established Royal Roads University. MALT alumnus (1997) Phil Cady was the first graduate of the program. Cady says the program content as well as the learning process taught him to be able to live with uncertainty and perform in volatile and complex situations.

“Royal Roads’ model was a big shift in the way universities worked and here I was experiencing that same shift at the level of the individual: from knowing to not knowing, but being confident in not knowing and developing other skills necessary to work in today’s environment,” says Cady.

Now an associate faculty member, he believes the learning community, ambiguity and problem-based learning have remained pillars of the program for 20 years.

“Ambiguity creates struggle and not knowing can sometimes create confusion and conflict—all of these things become areas where we can apply our leadership competencies,” explains Cady. “In the Master of Arts in Leadership we teach the skill required to work together to meet or address leadership challenges through problem-based learning. We could not remove the notion of learning in community from the program without fundamentally compromising the quality and transformative experience of the program itself.”

Leadership students learn that in the face of today’s complex challenges, there is rarely one clear “right” answer. Today’s leaders need to be able to step into this uncertainty with both confidence and humility in order to engage others in working toward a common goal.

Twenty years later in the current Master of Arts in Leadership program, student Jo Dumont reflects that her journey through the program has allowed her to become comfortable in not knowing all the answers.

“People at the top always had to have all the answers and if you didn’t, then that was a bad thing,” says Dumont. “Now it’s exciting to not have the answers.”

In the program Dumont is learning processes for engaging people in meaningful dialogue and inquiry to co-create new answers to seemingly intractable challenges.

“In the program, you really have to get in touch with who you are, who you want to be as a leader and how you show up as a leader. You need to reflect on where you were, where you’re at and where you want to go in the future,” she adds.

School of Leadership Studies Acting Director Catherine Etmanski says a differentiating factor of the program is the encouragement students receive to look inward first to identify their own values before moving forward as a leader.

“The term leadership means different things to different people, from positions of authority to collaborative ways of working to achieve shared goals,” says Etmanski. “It all begins with self and ripples outward from there. The program helps develop leadership skills around understanding how our very presence alone has an impact on the organization and the outcomes.”

Etmanski adds that leadership has shifted away from the authoritative model to understanding that nothing happens with one person acting alone. “Leadership is collaborative and it’s a matter of fostering relationships to seek better collaboration. We’re very intentional about building relationships within our cohort learning community because it reflects how we teach leadership.”

As a field of scholarship, leadership is transdisciplinary in nature—drawing from research conducted in all sectors, as well as from organizational studies, community development, social movement theory, human systems development, complexity theory and more. Master of Arts in Leadership students come from a variety of sectors, including business, non-profit, education, military, the arts and health during the four intakes of the program offered each year with one intake specifically offered to health professionals.

Barb Stoddard is an alumna (2003) of the inaugural Master of Arts in Leadership Health specialization program (MALT 2001) and is currently program head for the health specialization. Stoddard believes one of the unique characteristics of the program lies within the passion of the health- experienced faculty teams.

“Students come to the program with a wealth of knowledge and faculty teams create opportunities for them to build new ways of understanding what they already know,” says Stoddard. “Many faculty members who teach in the program are graduates of the program. The passion that the program ignited in them as students continues—it is as alive today as when they first engaged it. It is life changing for students and faculty alike.”

The program has supported leaders in understanding and applying the best of leadership theory in their own personal, supervisory, team and strategic contexts for 20 years. “We continue to offer an innovative approach to learning and practicing leadership through our experiential method and our attention to leaders as whole people,” says Etmanski.

For more information about the Master of Arts in Leadership program and the Master of Arts in Leadership - Health program, visit the School of Leadership Studies website.

Photo: School of Leadership Studies Acting Director Catherine Etmanski (far left) leads a discussion with school faculty and staff members.