Innovative Leadership


IMBA class

James Madison University is recreating the traditional master of business administration degree. JMU's College of Business is now offering the Innovation MBA, or iMBA, a hybrid of business fundamentals and leadership development that will create business leaders with a thorough understanding of the innovation process. 

The theme of the program, "Leading through innovation with technology and people," starts with leadership. "A current trend in industry is to invest heavily in leadership development programs," said Dr. Michael Busing, director of MBA programs. " We studied that trend, incorporated a leadership development program into our curriculum and firmly believe that our graduates have a leg up in the marketplace as they interview for new positions or as they are considered for promotions within their current firms." 

Adds Associate Management Professor Eric Stark, "Leadership and the innovation process are logically inseparable when thinking about organizational effectiveness in competitive markets. So, when thinking about the concept of innovation as the theme for the program, it was really a very natural progression in thinking to identify leadership development as a potentially valuable component of the MBA experience." 

The Program 
iMBA students on average come to the program with six years of work experience. The program affords students the opportunity to continue working while pursuing their master's degree. Based on a quarter system, classes meet in person every three weeks and, utilizing cutting-edge teaching techniques, meet in a virtual setting the other weeks. 

The students also attend three Saturday workshops, create a leadership development portfolio, select an executive-level mentor and participate in an international trip. As a part of the cultural awareness experience course, the second-year students will travel to China in summer 2011 to visit numerous cultural and business sites. 

The Portfolio 
While many of the courses offered over the two-year program incorporate leadership theory, the leadership development program component of the iMBA exists as an independent graduation requirement. This program requirement includes creating a leadership portfolio, a comprehensive documentation of the mentor experience, involvement in leadership-based events and activities and the student's individualized leadership plan. 

The portfolio is intended to be a unique deliverable, a way to document and reflect upon the student's leadership experiences over the 20-month program. 

"We view leadership development as an ongoing process that is fueled by exposure, exploration and active reflection," said Stark. "The portfolio is the vehicle that allows students to reflect on their leadership experiences and truly make sense of the experiences in terms of knowledge they have gained or skills they have acquired." 

Meaningful Mentoring 
According to Busing, 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have mentor programs. Developing a successful mentee/mentor relationship takes practice, not to mention patience. iMBA students are required to choose an executive-level mentor to aid in their personal and professional growth. 

"By requiring mentors in our iMBA Program, we�ve ensured that our graduates develop solid interpersonal skills that are required to make such future relationships successful," said Busing. 

Students interact with their mentors by e-mail and phone as well as in person. Busing says it is important for the mentee to establish goals and a vision for what they want to gain from the relationship. 

Daniel Bureau, a second-year iMBA student, is a program coordinator for Loudoun County Parks and Recreation. His mentor, the CEO and treasurer of an engineering company, is intentionally outside of Bureau's field of work. 

"I am not an engineer by trade nor will I be," said Bureau, "but the experience of working with a mentor and company who does business internationally in a field I knew nothing about taught me more than I could have ever expected." 

Bureau said he spends time talking to his mentor about class concepts and real-world application. 

Rachael Thompson, director of regional accounts for The Homestead, took a different approach when choosing her mentor. She chose the sales director at The Homestead. "Choosing a mentor who works for the same company has proven beneficial; we are able to meet more easily and more frequently and the experience has provided me opportunities for growth in my job, as well as my leadership development," said Thompson. 

Applied Leadership 
While the iMBA program continues to refine and structure the leadership development program, the current students reflect positively about their own leadership growth. 

"I believe the leadership portion of the iMBA program is important, because it helps students acquire the skills/techniques necessary to apply the knowledge gained in class work," said Bureau. "Having knowledge means nothing if you cannot successfully lead your employees or organization in the direction you wish to go." 

"I have been able to learn about the inherent positives and negatives of being in a leadership role, how to best address the challenges that arise in that role, how to lead effectively and how to develop and put into practice leadership skills," said Thompson. 

For more information on the Innovation MBA program visit

Published: Thursday, February 17, 2011

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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