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In the Spotlight: Catherine Honig, Associate Professor, CMB

June 20, 2013

by Mark Donahue

ul 6.20.13 In business, leadership is paramount — particularly today, as the economy navigates out of the recent recession. Businesses continue to look for those who will drive change, make key decisions and inspire an organization to greater success.

It's something NLU's College of Management and Business has recognized. The CMB recently repositioned its acclaimed MBA program with a greater focus on leadership — introducing new curriculum offerings and career development to help students sharpen their skills and increase their employability. Accredited by the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), the program continues to provide students with key business skills in areas such as finance, economics, marketing and strategy.

I spoke with Catherine Honig, Associate Professor with CMB, about the new look and feel of NLU's MBA. Dr. Honig holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and joined NLU in 1990. She has taught management and leadership courses for nearly 25 years and has focused on online learning for more than a decade.

How did the change to a greater leadership focus for the MBA program come about?

The college’s graduate faculty places a high premium on making sure that the content of the program reflects current business trends and the prevailing economic climate while also meeting students’ career development goals. So we are always thinking about ways to continuously improve what we do. This year the university provided a particularly great opportunity for three academic programs to take an intensive, forward-thinking look at how they might redesign themselves for the future. The MBA was one of those programs, and the entire process gave the faculty a terrific chance to reflect upon not only industry and marketplace trends, but also on what we are hearing from our students and our organizational partners. What emerged from all of our discussions and data was a very clear read that a leadership-focused MBA would be a value-added enhancement from the point of view of both students and organizations.

What needs does it address?

Focusing on leadership in an MBA program addresses multiple goals. Practitioners and academics alike have called for an increased emphasis in this area in MBA programs, largely because even a cursory review of organizational successes (and failures) points directly to the impact of leadership. It’s a powerful common denominator across industries, organizations and sectors, and it raises important questions about how to strategically drive change, influence decisions and inspire others to new levels of innovation.

Earning an MBA also is about career advancement, so it is important to think in those terms when redefining an MBA curriculum. Adding a leadership theme provides enhanced career opportunity and career flexibility for students by building into the program knowledge and skills that are relevant across organizational environments and also across the trajectory of a career. Whether someone is leading a team, managing a project or starting a new business, the ability to accomplish goals through others is equally valuable and significant.

In a crowded MBA program field, what makes NLU stand out?

The focus on leadership is a distinguishing feature that we’re really excited about. The program will introduce the leadership theme via a new course called "Leadership and Organizational Behavior." It will apply a workshop-style format to introduce contemporary leadership perspectives. In particular, we’ll be introducing authentic leadership, a framework that focuses strongly on leading from a place of passion, connectedness and integrity. This is a theme that resonates strongly with our students, and the new "Leadership and Organizational Behavior" course gives us a chance to increase the depth of exploration.

In addition, each course in the MBA program will incorporate an online “career corner” that underscores the link between the course content (such as finance or marketing) and the specific role that leadership can play in driving that organizational function. This approach will be supported by an online career development tool that will allow us to bring potential career opportunities into sharper focus for our students

How does the new Leadership Certificate fit in?

The Leadership Certificate is a five-course leadership development sequence that extends the leadership themes that are introduced in the MBA program. Students who want to learn even more about their leadership strengths and potential can do so through hands-on assignments, self-assessments, and in-depth reflection opportunities in areas such as high performance teams, organizational change and innovation, and visioning. The MBA’s "Leadership and Organizational Behavior" course is actually the first course in the Leadership Certificate sequence, so MBA students who want to complete the Leadership Certificate will already have completed one of the certificate courses.

How well do you think CMB is preparing grad-level business students for leadership roles?

Supporting MBA students in meeting their professional development and career goals is essentially synonymous with preparing them to lead, and both the content and the delivery approach of the MBA program play important roles in ensuring that we meet this objective. The major learning outcomes of the MBA program — which drive course content across the curriculum — address both critical business functions and key leadership competencies. Application assignments, case studies and simulations help deliver content in ways that encourage strategic integration of key business areas in addressing challenges and solving real-life problems. Feedback from students tells us that these application-oriented opportunities are eye-opening learning experiences.

Does CMB have any other programs planned for revisions/rollouts in the near future?

A new Bachelor of Arts in Communication — a joint endeavor between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Management and Business — is currently planned. New curriculum development opportunities are always on the horizon in CMB, so stay tuned.

Do you think the recent recession has changed the expectations for business school grads?

The recession significantly altered the organizational environment. As you’d expect, this is a major focus of MBA class discussions. Many organizations are working leaner — reducing costs and reorganizing. Managing one’s career in this context can be challenging, so it’s important to understand how your unique constellation of strengths and experiences can bring value to an organization.  

There’s good news, though. National survey data suggest that employment opportunities and salaries are on the rise for MBA graduates, pointing to the enduring value of an MBA degree in career advancement.


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