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Center for Leadership growing in prestige with ‘know thyself’ approach

Center for Leadership growing in prestige with ‘know thyself’ approach

March 4, 2015 at 12:00am

Let’s dispel a few myths surrounding leadership.

First, what makes a leader great is not merely natural-born charisma and intellect. Of course, those qualities help. However, there is a science to effective leadership beyond innate personality and it can be learned.

Second, having vision as a leader is not about grandiose statements framed on a wall. It’s giving people reason to show up, buy in and give their best to your organization.

Finally, there’s no such thing as a perfect leader. All leaders have some strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know yourself well enough to recognize how those affect your leadership.

These ideas form the foundation for the FIU Center for Leadership’s approach to training better leaders and it’s one that is winning accolades and growing enrollment from around the country. In just the past year, the Center was ranked #1 in the country, topping more than 300 educational institutions, including some of the county’s most elite, for the Leadership 500 Excellence Award. Among the key criteria in the selection was feedback from program alumni.

Closer to home, the Office of the Provost granted the center the prestigious status of university-wide center. With the new designation come opportunities for broader collaborations, expanded research and enhanced leadership capacity across disciplines. And, the center’s robust calendar of lectures and public events drew record attendance of more than 2,500 students, faculty, staff and community members. Among the high-profile guests they have hosted: Sushi Maki CEO Abe Ng, Harvard business professor and author Rosabeth Moss Kanter and the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman.

“We wanted to be number one in executive education and professional development programs and we achieved that last year,” said Director of Strategy and Implementation Mayra Beers, who has been with the Center since it was founded by FIU President Emeritus Modesto A. Maidique in 2006. Professor Nathan Hiller, professor in the College of Business, also serves as Academic Director for the Center.

“Our long-term goal is to become a resource center on leadership for the university, the community, the nation and even internationally,” Beers said. “We have something to offer that is practical and helps make better leaders.”


Participants in the Principal’s Leadership Development Program are trained to be change agents in their schools.

To date, more than 600 individuals have graduated from the Center’s various training programs for senior executives, women, principals, physicians, high-potential leaders and young executives. At the conclusion of each session, participants are asked to rank the programs on a scale of 1 to 5. On average, participants rank the programs a 4.8.  Read more from alumni of the Center for Leadership here.

Arnold Montgomery, the administrative director of the Office of Educational Equity, Access, and Diversity for Miami Dade County Public Schools, attended the Principals Leadership Development Program (PLDP). He was impressed that the center utilizes current research-based strategies for leadership development and pushed participants to examine the traits of their leadership style, as well as personal health and wellbeing in a holistic manner.

“The PLDP provided an opportunity to self-reflect, review, analyze, and self-critique what we do as leaders and this ignited a renewed impetus for personal improvement,” he said.

Related: What makes a good leader?

The Center’s approach to leadership training is built on a competency model developed by Professor Hiller and colleagues in 2006. The model has two pillars. First in order to be an effective leader, one must know thyself. Much of the center’s training focuses on self-examination.

“We help leaders understand themselves and try to tap the leadership qualities that are authentic to them,” Beers said.


The second pillar of the model is a set of skills and abilities related to effective leadership that can be learned.

“Some are more natural to people,” Hiller said. “But people can, through deliberate attention and practice of well validated techniques and principles, become more effective in their leadership roles. We can’t take people from 0 to 100 but we can take them from 50 to 60 or 70 to 82. And these small changes can have huge effects.”

The notion of vision in leadership, Hiller said, is a good example. Not everyone comes into theprogram with a clear idea of what vision is and how it is applied. The program clarifies that vision is not about charisma, but creating a narrative so that everyone in the organization has a shared framework for why their work matters and where they are headed.

The catch is a leader must believe in the vision or no one else will.

“We ask, ‘Are you doing this in ways that are authentic to you?’ This is not about you channeling the charisma of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Hiller said. “It’s hard. At the end of the session some of the participants have made progress but are still wrestling with it. That’s fine – leadership development is a journey. We’re just trying to accelerate it.”

The lesson on vision development turned out to be critically important for Solana Cozzo, senior business leader at MasterCard Worldwide Latin America and the Caribbean Prepaid Cards. When she did The Women Leaders Program, she was seven months pregnant and preparing her team to manage the business while she was on leave.

“It became clear how crucial it was for me to articulate a clear, simple strategy for my business that the team could easily embrace and take forward while I was away.” she said.

Guided by the Women’s Leadership Program, Cozzo did the work and says it has paid off. “I worked with them to articulate our vision and strategy and to this day, everyone on my team owns, understands and is inspired by what we are doing and where we are headed.”