How Leadership Development Programs Are Equipping Future-Focused Leaders

by Tobin Perry

If you look back on the past century, a few years stand out as key turning points in history, such as 1945, 1968, 1989, and 2008 (among others).

It’s time to add another year to that historic list—2020. In fact, it’s likely 2020 will rank as the most transformational year in world history since the end of World War II. Due to the immense changes taking place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational leaders are facing new opportunities and new challenges.

To meet and even anticipate these changes, leadership development programs must ensure curriculum is designed to prepare future-focused leaders. Azusa Pacific University’s leadership-based programs recognize this need and have shaped graduate-level courses that equip students with the tools to succeed.

“If we desire to be better leaders for those we steward, we have to be willing to continue to develop and grow to be ready and able to lead in good times and in crisis,” noted Jillian Gilbert, DSL, CF-LSP, director of the MA in Leadership program and associate professor for the Department of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at APU. “This includes not just developing our own emotional intelligence but also how to effectively lead an organization operationally.”

4 Skills Offered by Leadership Development Programs

Many of the most important skills needed for future-focused leadership are timeless. They are the skills leaders should prioritize at all times, but in the aftermath of a paradigm-shifting global pandemic, these four traits jump to the top:

  1. Service-first mindset: Leaders who succeed in the future will direct service-oriented teams that look to meet the needs of customers, clients, and other constituencies. Leaders who constantly ask how they can help others often identify trends before others, an important trait in supporting teams who may not yet see the way forward.
  2. Empathy: Change can be emotionally difficult. Effective leaders must have the ability to understand and share the feelings of others so that people feel comfortable following them even as they deal with their own complex emotions.
  3. A diverse network of relationships: Successful leaders can’t get stuck in silos. Because the future is unclear, we’ll need the perspective of more people to help us see the roadblocks ahead. Any action you can take to develop a broader network (such as investing in higher education or community organizations) will greatly benefit you as a leader right now.
  4. Readiness to pivot quickly: The best leaders will be those who don’t become stuck in old patterns, rather, they take a step back and reconsider how things are done. Todd Pheifer, EdD, assistant professor in the School of Business and Management at APU, noted that organizations are increasingly focusing on leaders who view a paradigm shift as a chance to reevaluate. “Organizations have to prioritize and assess whether traditional practices still represent the best way to do business,” he said. “While this type of evaluation can create a level of anxiety of some leaders, it can also represent an exciting opportunity to innovate.”

APU Programs Prepare You for a Changing Future

The graduate-level leadership training programs offered at Azusa Pacific provide students a great opportunity to learn these specific leadership skills. And the ongoing changes around the world allow for numerous opportunities to explore real-life case studies and enriching scenarios.

“One of the most important ways to help leaders thrive during complex change is to build resilience and capacity for change,” Gilbert said. “Change readiness is often misunderstood. It has less to do with wanting to change and everything to do with the capacity for change. Our programs accomplish this through applied work that helps students connect theory to practice. We engage real clients for applied projects, bring in industry leaders to talk about the realities of leadership, and provide relevant group work that allows students to practice the competencies of collaboration, creativity, and change leadership.”

Pheifer added that the opportunity to self-evaluate and explore the world through the integration of faith principles is also important to students enrolled in APU’s leadership training programs. “The world will change in the future, so the goal is to equip future leaders with the ability to integrate personal beliefs and the skills to not only apply scholarly materials, but also adapt to new environments,” he said.

These three leadership-specific APU programs prepare graduates as leaders who can impact change using a framework centered on Christian values:

  • The 39-40-unit Master of Business Management program was designed to equip ethical leaders capable of adapting to the changing business landscape.
  • Employers and other leaders helped shape the 30-unit Master of Arts in Leadership to prepare agile and innovative leaders in a variety of contexts. In this program, students learn a human-centered approach to solving the complex challenges leaders face.
  • The 39-unit Master of Science in Organizational Psychology uses experiential learning opportunities to develop graduates who go on to serve as consultants to organizational leaders, helping them work through complex problems.

Interested in learning more about APU’s graduate leadership programs and how to apply? Visit Graduate and Professional Admissions for more information and insights.