Editor’s Note: Sara Jo Daubert, Ph.D., teaches organizational behavior and leadership for the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Beginning this year, Dr. Daubert also teaches the MPS program’s Seminar in Leadership, a class that meets weekly during students’ first three quarters.
Dr. Daubert received her Ph.D. in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Many of her students have gone on to receive awards on campus and serve in leadership positions on campus and in their communities.
TWJ: Thanks so much for spending time with me today.
SJD: You’re very welcome.
TWJ: You teach our weekly MPS Leadership seminar. How did you come to teach in the MPS program?
SJD: I had done some leadership consulting for the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, and through that organization, I met (former Cal Poly Dairy Science Department Head) Charlie Crabb. Because of my background in Ag Leadership, Dr. Crabb asked me to teach the class. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity.
TWJ: We talk a lot about leadership in the MPS program, and I emphasize the importance of leadership when recruiting students around the country. Why is it so important?
SJD: Over the past five to seven years, the concept of leadership in organizations has become a really big deal. Organizations these days don’t just want to hire good managers; they want to hire good leaders. Organizations are specifically looking for students who have had leadership training. As a result, classes like like the MPS leadership seminar are taking off. This is a real competitive advantage for the program. If I were hiring for a company and was looking at two students from two different programs, I would take the student from the program with the leadership class. That’s how important it is.
Leadership is a component of self-discovery. It’s an ongoing process of learning about yourself, and then learning how you translate that knowledge into the workplace, and to your working relationships with others.
TWJ: Can you list some common traits that suggest leadership ability or potential?
SJD: Vision. Integrity. A strong level of ability. Communication skills. Charisma. Positive self-esteem.
TWJ: Can leadership be taught? Or is it innate?
SJD: It’s absolutely something you can learn. The research would suggest it’s both. There are qualities that are innate – charisma, for example. It’s harder to teach people to be charismatic. But most leadership traits can be learned.
TWJ: Are leaders rare? Or do we all have the potential to lead?
SJD: I think everyone has the potential to lead. You just have to put yourself in the right situation. Classes like the MPS leadership seminar are becoming more popular because people are beginning to realize that we all have that potential, if given the right tools and presented with the right situation.
TWJ: It seems there are many kinds of leaders, ranging all the way from Steve Jobs to the Dalai Lama. Is there a right way to lead? Is one kind of leadership more effective than another?
SJD: I don’t know that I would characterize it like that. There isn’t one way to lead – it’s about how you connect with people, and what you know about yourself – and what leadership qualities you identify with.
When we teach leadership, we first test our students so we can see how they measure on various personality traits. Their scores reveal the kinds of leadership styles they might fit into. For example, there are “servant leaders,” such as Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. Steve Jobs was an effective leader, but he wouldn’t necessarily fit as a servant leader.
There are traits that show up in leaders across all leadership styles. Steve Jobs, President Obama, the Dalai Lama, and Ronald Reagan are very different kinds of leaders. But most people would say they all have charisma. They likely share other common leadership traits, too.
TWJ: Is there someone whose leadership inspires you? Whose leadership do you respect?
SJD: I’ve always been inspired by (Starbucks founder and CEO) Howard Shultz. He’s a modern leader who people can relate to. From what I’ve read, he takes a vested interest in developing his people. There are stories about him that illustrate this point. He has a private plane, and when he travels, he carries a stack of cards. He takes time during flights to write personal thank you notes and birthday wishes to the people he leads. His employees really respond to that. I teach my students a similar form of modern leadership called “caring leadership.”
Another thing I teach my students is this: the most important thing you can ask people is, “What can I do for you today?” Great leaders will take the time to ask that question.
SJD: Leadership doesn’t just mean being in a position of power and managing other people. It’s about learning who you are.
When I started learning about leadership in college, I created a model in which I identified three essential components of leadership.
The first component of my model, and the subject of our first quarter in the MPS seminar, involves taking all of the assessments (for example, the Myers Briggs personality test) and discovering who you are on a personal level. It’s a component of self-reflection.
The second component, and the focus of our second quarter, involves taking all of that information you’ve learned about yourself and applying it to group situations. We focus on the team-centered approach.
The third component, and the subject of our third quarter, focuses on one of the most important qualities of a leader: being able to develop the next person. At this point, we’ve gotten to know ourselves, and we know how to work in a team. The final component involves learning how to pass this on the the next person. To accomplish this, we’ll work on strategies for coaching and mentoring.
We also do a lot of “career readiness” exercises. We work on cover letters, resumes, and business cards. Next week, we’ll focus on negotiations, such as salary negotiations. We’ll have an etiquette dinner, where we’ll learn how to eat properly in a business setting. We’ll spend time on business communications, such as agendas, memos, and minutes. We’ll practice interviewing. Students are not exposed to this material in a typical class. They wouldn’t learn these things otherwise. It’s all about career preparedness – and the students love it.
TWJ: Sometimes students interested in joining the MPS program ask me what they can do to bolster their leadership skills before coming to Cal Poly. How would you advise them?
SJD: They should try to get as much work experience as they can, through internships or employment. They should seek out opportunities to work with other people. They should read about leadership. They should be reflective in a journal, and ask themselves questions such as, “What did I do today? Why didn’t that person respond well to me? What can I do better tomorrow or next time?”
TWJ: Can you recommended some reading material?
SJD: I often suggest to my students that they choose an autobiography by a person they’re interested in, for example, a historical leader like Lincoln or Reagan. You learn a lot about individual leadership that way.
In addition, I recommend reading anything by Howard Shultz, such as Onward or Pour Your Heart Into It. Also, anything by Max Depree. And I always recommend that my students read The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama
TWJ: Can you share any stories about teaching Leadership in the MPS program?
SJD: We had a breakthrough yesterday during a hike. The class has separated into two cliques, and there hasn’t been much interaction between the two groups of students. So yesterday, we climbed Bishop’s Peak as a team-building exercise. Our goal was to try to connect on a more interpersonal level, and it worked. There was a lot of intermingling and mixing that I normally don’t see. It broke down barriers. I was shocked. One student who is a bit more introverted in class led the group up the hill. Getting out of the classroom broke down the barriers.
TWJ: Have you learned anything from teaching in the MPS program?
SJD: When you teach to a higher-level class, the students process information at a higher level. I have to be prepared for the fact that they have more real world experience and can apply the lessons specifically to their lives. They know and have experienced what I’m talking about, and they want to know even more about it. They’re more intuitive in general. This causes me to always be researching the next best thing. For instance, what is the climate like in the field they’re about to enter? I have to know that stuff.
TWJ: Thanks for your time, Sara.
SJD: You’re welcome.
Tom Johnson. Program Manager
MPS in Dairy Products Technology
(970) 215-3459 cell