The Final Class – Leadership

Before wading into the depths of my bi-monthly column, I want to share some positive news with you concerning our evening (traditional) and executive MBA programs at Nicholls State University.

As we approach the fall semester, our enrollment applications for the evening MBA program have spiked. I am not sharing numbers because enrollment remains fluid, but the jump is considerable compared to our last several semesters. The reasons might include unexpected job loss, growing unemployment, and the realities of COVID-19. I like to think it is student insightfulness as they recognize the need to upskill for the future. We are still accepting and reviewing applications daily.

Concerning our executive MBA (18-month) program, we are completing the 10th cohort. (Someone asked me the other day, what’s a cohort? A cohort is an academic term for a class of students being educated at the same time.) As I write this column, the 10th cohort has only one class session remaining, and it is my Leadership class – more on that in a moment.

Concurrent with the completion of the 10th cohort, we are beginning the 11th. Both groups are very near capacity. The mix of participating students is widely representative of individuals living and working in the Bayou Region. Partakers include health care providers, lawyers, military officers, engineers, corporate executives, supply chain leaders, entrepreneurs, financial analysts, and other professionals. It is in this diversity of experience that enriches the overall learning experience. Students travel to Nicholls every other Saturday from locations as far away as Houston, Alexandria, and of course, New Orleans.

So, as the end of the 10th cohort draws to a close, you might wonder what is on tap for our final session on Leadership. Since each class session is eight hours in length, I attempt to break the lecture and discussion into specific topics-smaller bites.

On our first face-to-face class session, we start by spending most of the morning, learning to understand who we are and how our personalities impact those around us. I call it “Understanding Self & Others.” Before leading others, leaders must be able to conduct themselves effectively. Next, we move to influence. According to leadership guru, John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence and influence is Leadership.” We end the day talking about trust. According to Jim Henderson, President of the UL System, “Trust is the conduit of influence. It’s the medium through which ideas travel.”

With the start of our second in-class meeting, we take a deep dive into Emotional Intelligence (EI). Typically, I have a working leader visit the class to share their EI experience. Leaders must be capable of managing their emotions while showing empathy towards the personal situations and conditions of others. Next, we cover two very critical leadership elements: Diversity & Inclusion, and Ethics. I reinforce that diversity without inclusion has limited value. For an organization to reach its maximum potential, every employee must be treated respectfully, believing that they can bring their very best “self” to work and that their contribution is valued. Concerning Ethics, my go-to illustration directs me to one of John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – The Rule of the Picture. People do what they see. “When the leaders show the way with right actions, their followers copy them and succeed.”

In our third and final class session, we begin with Leadership as a competitive advantage. Organizational leaders have two significant toggles at their disposal. Both need to be managed exquisitely: Strategy and Culture.

Vision is the promise of the future, while culture is how we expect people to work together to execute that strategy. Without having an organization capable of understanding and effectively implementing the organization’s longer-term operating vision, the strategic plan has no real value. By the way, executing an effective strategy and creating a positive work culture is an example of how leaders continue influencing others, even when they are not always physically present. Towards the end of the class session, participants (in groups) give oral presentations on a leadership book they read during the course period.

Now, it is time for celebration and reward. These individuals, with their freshly minted MBA, have been working diligently, for the past 18 months. Each will tell you that what seemed like a lifetime, in the beginning, went by in a flash. I hope that they take the knowledge they acquired and combine that with their individual experiences to shed the light of Leadership on those they are responsible for leading.

Ray Peters is MBA Director & Leadership Instructor at Nicholls State University. He can be reached at