You are a senior leader at a high-tech manufacturing business.
Turmoil wracks the industry. You must make major changes to your business to survive. Time and money are short. Many of your fellow employees are sceptical of your plans.
What do you do?
This the premise of a simulation Athabasca University’s Faculty of Business (AUFB) uses to train organizational leaders as part of its Online Leadership certificate of completion.
“At first, I thought, really? This is like a game. What am I going to learn here?” says Cheryl Pickard, who finished the course last year. “But I wound up learning tons about change management.”
The first few times running the scenario, Pickard’s theoretical business went bankrupt or lost critical employees. But the more times she went through the scenario, the more she learned about the value of critical thinking and building relationship with colleagues.
“It really makes you think about all the things that are impacted by a single change.”
The leadership courses, including the simulation, provided Pickard with insights she uses every day in her job as a store leader at Princess Auto.
“My role involves building leaders, getting people to unleash their potential, meet their goals,” she says. “The Athabasca program is all about that. It helps me make the right choices every day.”
Yet Pickard almost didn’t take the course. In the middle of a busy career, with no university experience, she worried that she’d flunk out or find it useless. With encouragement from her daughter, who holds multiple university degrees, Pickard took the plunge.
Making post-secondary leadership development available to people like Pickard is precisely the point of the Leadership and Management Development series of courses at AU’s Faculty of Business.
“It’s about creating a safe space for learners,” says Angela Workman-Stark, an associate professor at the university and one of the program’s instructors. “Some other learning environments place more emphasis on what you look like, or your background. Doing an online course means people only share what they want to share about themselves.”
Workman-Stark would know. As an up-and-coming officer in the RCMP, she decided to do her MBA through Athabasca University because of its online instruction.
“As a very junior constable, I could take the program from the comfort of my home office. Many biases were automatically removed,” she says. “It leads to a very rich learning environment.”
“I would never have completed my MBA without Athabasca,” she says. “I didn’t have the schedule for it.”
Now with a doctorate to match her MBA, Workman-Stark has seen AU’s ability to make diverse learners feel welcome from both sides of the lectern. The online leadership program has welcomed students living across Canada and around the world, from every walk of life.
The program offers much more than simulations. There are courses on conflict management, dealing with diversity, coaching, self-awareness, bringing people together around common goals, and using the power of storytelling.
Unlike some online courses, learners within AU’s Faculty of Business are grouped into classes, and move through the course together.
“Leadership is about collaboration,” says Workman-Stark. “Some of the magic in the courses come from exchanges with others. It’s not just learning the material, it’s also learning from others.”
Preparing leaders for the next stage in their career
Shortly after she finished the course, Pickard was offered a new position at work. She moved from Victoria to Ottawa and took charge of a Princess Auto store with almost three times the number of staff.
“I was in Victoria for six years. You get to know people. When you move, you have to start all over,” says Pickard.
“But with the skills and knowledge and experience I’ve learned from this program, I was able to take on my new, more challenging role with confidence,” she says. “And I’m super stoked with where I am right now.”
Pickard was so impressed with her experience at Athabasca University that she’s enrolled in further leadership and management development courses, and is now pursuing the Online Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Leadership and Management (PBDLM).
Workman-Stark loves to see students grow their confidence and appetite for self-improvement. She says it’s not uncommon for students who start with the Online Leadership certificate of completion to work their way up to completing a diploma, an MBA, or beyond.
“The messages we get from graduates who couldn’t otherwise access education because of money, or scheduling, or family give me the greatest satisfaction,” she says. “These learning opportunities raise people up.”
Learn the foundations of leadership with AUFB’s course The Leadership Challenge – Exploring the Leader Within.
It is the ideal place for students to get started on their leadership journey.