Students in the online, top-ranked MBA@Nebraska program regularly apply what they learn in real time. For two students in the initial offering of a new elective called Strengths-Based Leadership (GRBA 896), they found ways to incorporate CliftonStrengths® into their leadership style and professional role.
The course, first taught by Timothy Hodges, executive director of the Clifton Strengths Institute and assistant professor of practice in management last summer, brings a further focus on leadership development to the 48-credit-hour program. Students met weekly over Zoom, participated in discussion boards and met one-on-one with a peer for further strengths discovery. Hodges also hosted two sessions where students met with authors of the book used in class called "Wellbeing at Work." Authors Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup, and Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being, shared insight and answered students’ questions on well-being and building resilient and thriving teams.
“We spent time focusing on great leaders, great leadership teams and why people follow. We started by taking the CliftonStrengths assessment so they could learn their own top strengths. Then the students got to work on how they could best apply their strengths to their current role,” Hodges said.
The average MBA@Nebraska student brings an average of 9.6 years of work experience to the virtual classroom. While their roles, industry and location vary greatly, Jared Blecha and Morgan Holen exemplify how the course impacted students regardless of their previous familiarity with CliftonStrengths.
“The course opened my eyes to the ways in which differing strengths play a vital role in engagement and well-being in a workplace. Now more than ever, businesses and leaders are concerned with how to keep employees engaged and motivated. Learning how to lead with strengths not only maximizes the talent of the individual, but the entire team,” said Holen, ’20.
In June of 2021, Holen served as Miss Nebraska and received a Women in Business award at the Miss America competition. As Miss Nebraska and a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, she spent the year traveling across Nebraska speaking to schools, businesses and nonprofits about mentoring and the power of CliftonStrengths. She reflected upon these experiences as a speaker at the 2022 Clifton Strengths Institute Summer Conference. As someone with robust knowledge of strengths-based leadership, she saw the course as the college’s continued investment in creating business leaders.
“The addition of this course means the program values a well-rounded individual who not only grows in knowledge of business, but also how to work with different types of people and motivations,” said Holen, who now serves as the director of the Women Investing in Nebraska program at the University of Nebraska Foundation. “This course is special because it combines business and positive psychology with research that started on our very own campus.”
Students also paired up for a one-on-one interview with a classmate for more self-discovery and understanding their and others’ strengths. An atypical assignment for a standard online program, their conversation was guided with a base set of questions from Hodges that they could use in their professional roles to coach others to identify and utilize their strengths.
“These students are probably already in roles where they coach other employees. This activity helped increase their level of self-awareness by talking about their strengths while also growing their appreciation for another person’s set of strengths,” said Hodges.
While Holen had more experience specifically coaching strengths as a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, most in the class explored strengths-based leadership and CliftonStrengths for the first time. Taking the course after recently moving and starting a new job as director of sales and operations at UScellular, Blecha found the course covered different skills and topics he could use to further his leadership development.
“Having a deeper understanding of my personal strengths provided me invaluable insight into how I accomplish my work on a daily basis and how I leverage the strengths of my direct reports. I reflected upon my leadership and the environment I am creating to drive employee engagement,” Blecha said. “I would recommend this course to anyone who would like to take a personal inventory of their strengths, is interested in how to build and lead a world-class team and wants to hear directly from the foremost experts on focusing on the unique talents that every individual possesses.”
The application deadlines for the MBA@Nebraska include November 1, April 1 and July 1. To learn more about the MBA@Nebraska, visit: https://mba.unl.edu.
To learn more about the Clifton Strengths Institute, visit: https://business.unl.edu/strengths.