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Building Solid Leaders with Soft Skills

To lead, you must have followers.   To have followers, you must persuade. To persuade, you must understand. To understand, you must listen.

This is the foundation of the Business Leadership Program (BLP) at W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University. This innovative program is near the completion of its pilot year. As a result of its success, it will keep growing and developing.

College of Business Interim Dean Mason Garrity had seen similar programs, according to Scott Hoefle, director of undergraduate programs and the person responsible for overseeing the program. “He saw it as a way to engage students who stood out, not necessarily academically, but students who were motivated and engaged and wanting more.” Hoefle says that Garrity wanted students who exhibited that “fire in the belly” quality in their freshman year and would be ready for entry into the program as sophomores and remain through their junior and senior years.

When the current Dean of the College of Business, Dr. Craig Van Slyke, entered the picture, he was very supportive of the idea and worked with Hoefle to expand and strengthen the program by having it focus on three different skill areas. Year one would focus on sophomores and listening skills. In year two, juniors would work on understanding and empathy. And year three would teach seniors the art of persuasion.

One might think spending a year working on listening skills is a bit much, but Brittini Jajdelski says it has made a difference in her life. “I have learned that I’m really a bad listener but through the workshops in the Business Leadership Program I feel like I am getting better at listening.”

Matt Rojas agrees. “I haven’t always been the best listener, but now I can show that I am listening to people.” He went on to say that previously, he “might” have been listening but his behavior didn’t indicate that, whereas now it does.

Of course, the purpose of the Business Leadership Program is broader than helping students learn to listen. It is designed to help motivated students learn leadership skills. Hoefle says students learn how to dress, act and communicate in a professional manner. They also gain confidence as local business leaders and entrepreneurs are invited to meet with BLP members in settings that facilitate conversations and discussions. Hoefle said these meetings are not required but many of the students attend (even when the talks are early in the morning) to listen, learn and ask questions. “Students who come to these events learn how to feel comfortable with business leaders in a setting that is professional but intimate enough to ask questions and learn the stories of successful men and women,” Hoefle said.

This year, BLP recruited 21 students. Next year, Hoefle says that number will grow to 30 or 35. Most of the students are recruited by their professors or advisors who see a student who does well in school but is also engaged and clear about future goals. The College of Business now includes the Hotel and Restaurant Management Program (HRM), allowing those students a chance to become part of BLP. Interviews will begin this month. Students will know before the end of spring semester whether they have been selected.

Rojas is an accounting major and says that his roommate told him about the BLP and then he mentioned it to his mom who “pushed me” to apply. He says BLP has helped him network with other students with the same major. “I feel it has helped me to work better with other people, which will help me in the future.” He is looking forward to being paired with a professional mentor, something that the BLP is working to implement in the coming year.

BLP has given Jajdelski some wonderful opportunities. “We went to Tucson for the National Collegiate Leadership Conference and I learned so much in the three days I was there.”  Juggling school, work, BLP and other responsibilities “feels overwhelming some weeks” but she says it is worth it and will help her reach her goal of becoming a financial advisor and have her own practice. FBN




  1. Business Leadership Program Collaboration with the Hot Topics Café | The W. A. Franke College of Business - July 14, 2018

    […] the way business students look at the world for two years now (story on BLP’s beginning HERE). A new partnership with the NAU Philosophy in the Public Interest (PPI) program is further […]

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