EMBA Students Receive Valuable 'Lessons in Leadership'

KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 12, 2018) — Effective leaders create an environment where others can flourish.

That was the recurring theme throughout the 18th annual Lessons in Leadership event held on March 2 at the Cobb Energy Center. Organized by the Michael J. Coles College of Business Executive MBA Program, Lessons in Leadership features a panel of prominent Atlanta-area business and government leaders sharing their unique perspectives on leadership.

Lessons in leadership panelistsPanelists (from left to right): Dr. Ike Reighard, Allison Moran, Dr. Grant Rivera, and Susan Nether. Moderator: Chesley McNeil 

For panelist Dr. Ike Reighard, CEO of Must Ministries, leadership is all about surrounding yourself with the best people.

“I don’t care how good you are as a leader. At some point you are going to max out,” he said. “Your success or failure is going to rise and fall on the people you’ve got closest to you. Leadership is not a solo operation. It never has been and it never will be.”

The panel also included Allison Moran, former CEO of RaceTrac; Susan Nethero, principal of Golden Seeds, and Dr. Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools. Moderator Chesley McNeil, meteorologist and morning host for 11Alive, as well as a part-time instructor of atmospheric science at Kennesaw State University, led the discussion.

Speaking to an audience of current EMBA students, alumni, and high-profile members of the local business community, the panel addressed strategies that the audience could use to enhance their leadership skills.

Nethero, who founded a successful chain of women’s clothing stores called Intimacy, recalled how her business successfully motivated retail employees.

Susan Nethero Lessons in leadershipSusan Nethero

“Sometimes people working in retail weren’t given a lot of opportunities in life,” she said. “Many of the people we brought in were aspirational, but they didn’t really have the background. What we did was teach ordinary people how to be extraordinary. We built practices that brought a lot of personal reward to our employees. We literally had customers in the dressing rooms hugging our salespeople saying ‘thank you for making me feel good about myself.’ It became contagious.”

While agreeing with the other panelists that success as a leader means building up the people that follow you, Moran also recommended that aspiring leaders take every available opportunity to learn new things about leadership, including reading books and attending events like Lessons in Leadership.

“Everyone in this world would benefit from being a lifelong learner,” she said.  “That’s what life’s about; not becoming accustomed to or accepting the status quo, but in thinking how you might be challenged.”

Allison Moran Lessons in LeadershipAllison Moran and Dr. Grant Rivera

Rivera spoke about how effectiveness as a leader often has as much to do with what someone stands for as it does the skills they possess.

“When I look for leaders in my organization, I ask them ‘what do you stand for?’” he said. “It is easy to get lost in the jargon of business-speak and leadership-speak. What I want to do is get through that and figure out who you are at your core.”

Rivera told a story about taking a group of leadership students to Chick-Fil-A headquarters where management shared their company’s philosophy for hiring people for leadership positions. Something about Chick-Fil-A’s approach resonated with him.

“They said ‘we don’t look for the best HR person or the best operations person, we look for the best person based on their character. We will teach them what they need to know. We look for people before we look for skills.’”

In addition to providing EMBA students with excellent advice on improving their leadership skills, Lessons in Leadership gave them the chance to network with the panelists and other Atlanta-area business leaders.

“The thing that draws people to this event is the opportunity to network with people who have made a legacy out of their careers,” said EMBA student Michael Johnson, Business Development Coordinator at Colonial Pipeline Company. “This is a tremendous platform for establishing networks and growing your web.”

Michael Johnson Lessons in LeadershipEMBA Outstanding Scholar Michael Johnson

During the event, Johnson was named the EMBA Program’s 2018 Outstanding Scholar in recognition of his exemplary work inside and outside the classroom. Dr. Alison Keefe, Executive Director of the EMBA program, presented the award.

“The greatest accolade that can be bestowed on a Coles EMBA student is that of Outstanding Scholar,” she said, adding that Johnson has a perfect academic record, is a proven leader in the classroom, and will graduate this May with honors.

Keefe wrapped up the Lessons in Leadership event by echoing the panelists’ sentiments that leadership is not about personal accomplishment, but about helping others succeed.

“Their leadership lessons are vital in creating and sustaining an extraordinary work environment where others can flourish. What I heard from them tonight is that they practice what they preach and they model the way.”

- Patrick Harbin