Search I95 Business Magazine




Powering Organizations by Empowering Leaders
UMBC’s Center for Leadership and Innovation Brings Maryland Businesses to New Heights

October 2015

Gib Mason is the chief operating officer, vice president of finance and administration and director of the Center for Leadership and Innovation at UMBC Training Centers,

Are leaders born or made? It’s an age-old question, but one that continues to be relevant to the success of companies today. And what it really comes down to is this: Does leadership training work? Psychologist Bruce Avolio and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 200 studies related to leadership development dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Their findings, published in The Leadership Quarterly, found that the majority of leadership programs have a probability of producing a positive outcome. In other words, yes, leadership development programs do work.

Developing Leaders
We know that in order to build a truly effective organization, companies must establish a high-performance, high-commitment team. An effective leader must have ability to delegate, coach, motivate and empower his or her teams, but each leader channels these responsibilities in a unique way. UMBC’s programs at the Center for Leadership and Innovation identify the strengths of eachindividual, and we build on them by teaching them to implement the best leadership style for their organization.

The programs create a “ripple effect” by developing more effective leaders whose influence will expand throughout their organizations. There’s a famous quote from management guru and co-author of “In Search of Excellence” Tom Peters: “Leaders don’t create more followers. They create more leaders.” And it’s true. By focusing on the strength of leadership, we help companies create a high-performance team environment, build openness, trust and respect among team members, enhance interpersonal relationships, leverage “intrapreneurs” (those who apply an entrepreneurial mindset within the organization) and develop resilience – all keys to success.

Fostering Innovation
A company’s ability to innovate – to tap the fresh, value-creating ideas of its employees, partners, customers and suppliers – is anything but easy. How does a leader overcome the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality that plagues many corporate environments? In my experience I have come to be certain of one simple truth: Opportunities for innovation can be found anywhere and be createdby anyone.

When I was CFO of an environmental and engineering consulting firm, one of my responsibilities was to challenge the status quo. We were an organization that had begun to slip in the market. The driving force of the company was the people who held the technical skills –engineers, environmental scientists, architects – who often did not have the mindset to incorporate innovative behaviors into their daily routines. As an outsider looking in, you could see this was hindering our growth and profitability.

One day in my office it hit me – skunkworks! The term “skunkworks”is widely used in business to describe a group within an organization that is given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy.

I hired six new college graduates with diverse academic backgrounds, including marketing, English and biology. The group did not have any knowledge of the industry standards or structure. To ensure that they did not break any federal and state laws, a civil engineer was hired to manage them. He was given strict instruction to never impede their work, just to keep them out of trouble. The challenge presented to the young recruits was to build a faster process, with equal quality, for the company to turn out its assessments and testing done on job sites. When the team was first introduced to the company, they were dismissed as unskilled and inexperienced. But six months into the project, other departments started to take interest. They saw the potential in the ideas being set forth from the group and actually supported implementing them. The “Skunks,” as the group dubbed themselves, brought not only marked improvement to the firm, but an energy that had not been seen in a long time. This unlikely team taught the seasoned technical employees how to think outside the box.

At the Center for Leadership and Innovation, we first teach our clients to harness the concept of innovation, and then we help them promote it throughout their entire company. Finally, we teach them how to diffuse innovation deep into their organization’s roots to ensure a solid foundation for managing change.

Advantages for Maryland Businesses
The Center for Leadership and Innovation at UMBC Training Centers sprung from a demand for leadership training in Maryland, and we’ve helped a diverse range of companies so far, including Goodwill Industries and PANDORA.

One of our early success stories is Harkins Builders, a leading construction management firm serving the Mid-Atlantic. Harkins wanted to ensure the company’s long-term success – looking toward the next 50 years – and turned to UMBC Training Centers to provide leadership training to a group of high-potential employees within the organization. The Center for Leadership and Innovation team developed and implemented a customized, three-year Emerging Leaders program to unleash the potential in some of the company’s most promising young leaders.

Casey Hughes, pre-construction manager at Harkins Builders, was one of the high-potential employees selected by the senior leadership team to go through the program. “I had been through a number of leadership development programs outside of my organization prior to Emerging Leaders,” says Hughes. “This program was unique in that it allowed me to develop professionally alongside my colleagues over athree-year period and as a result, establish a sense of camaraderie that will propel Harkins into the future.”

For Hughes, one of the biggest takeaways was learning how to challenge the system, embrace change and innovate within the organization, from improving corporate culture to overhauling Harkins’subcontracting procedures.

“Harkins Builders now has a group of individuals who are better leaders today as a result of the Center for Leadership and Innovation,” says Dick Lombardo, president of Harkins Builders. “Each has learned his or her own style of leadership and embraced these concepts to inspire their teams, improve communication and facilitate positive change within the organization. We are better poised today to lead this company into the next 50 years than we
were two years ago, before our partnership with the Center began.”

Success attracts success. By harnessing the power of effective leadership and combining it with an appetite for innovation, Marylandbusinesses will not only thrive, they will also attract other businesses to the area. And a strong business community is something that benefits us all. I95