Executive Master of Leadership Blog

EML: Transitioning Leadership Online and Beyond

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 8, 2020 11:20:05 AM / by Laura S. Wittcoff, DSW, LICSW

EML teaches us all aspects of leadership. We begin the program concentrating on our individual leadership styles and then build into strategies for the organization and beyond. We ask ourselves the hard questions of what is leadership and how can we be the best version of ourselves in a leadership role. We discuss how to build on what we know and challenge ourselves to realize there is always more to learn.

Recognizing opportunities for ourselves to be challenged and make change is important to assure our lives evolve professionally and personally. We often recite the EML mantra that we should be “comfortable being uncomfortable”.


Leadership during COVID-19

Well 2020 certainly has thrown us into change, and whether we are comfortable or not, it is our reality. Creating opportunities out of challenging times is what we study in EML. How we navigate those times as a leader is what our legacy will be.

Making choices on the direction of our careers is important. Making the decision to go back to school for professional development is a huge decision. How you decide to conduct these transactions all plays a part in success. For instance, the opportunity to work and/or study from home could be a dream come true. Creating an environment of freedom in our daily schedule and flexibility in your own life has the potential to be exhilarating.

However, changing to remote learning and/or working has a different effect on productivity when it’s forced. In March, we were told to stay home for a month, which for many of us has now extended to six months, with no end date determined. For students, and parents of students, classes that we thought would be in-person are online. Starting classes this semester requires a learning curve that is much broader than anyone expected. Not only are students expected to know how to navigate these changes but faculty and working professionals are expected to lead the charge all the while learning themselves every day. How do we learn and lead in this environment when everything is so new?


Technology is great, until it's not

It’s important to understand that technology is great, until it’s not. It’s not enough that getting back in to “school” mode is essential, there is also the pressure to know what you’re doing even when so many things are out of your control. Take for example when your internet speed freezes mid-sentence leaving you with a very unflattering facial expression. Or, you start talking and the reverberation is so loud that everyone online throws off their earphones and looks at you like you did it on purpose.

Then there is just the pressure of being on camera. You may feel embarrassed by physically raising your hand when you’re supposed to use the “raise hand” function. Or, you forget that you haven’t brushed your hair all day until you get to class, turn the camera on, and you see for yourself that you look like you just got out of bed. The lighting, what is up with that?? You're either too red or your teeth are too grey. Maybe not everyone has their camera on. Why isn’t her camera on? You think to yourself, should I turn mine off? Online classes create so many issues that affect you and it doesn't even have anything to do with the actual class.


Make the most of EML

EML is the perfect program to be in to help navigate these issues, even online, and especially now. With so much unknown, really asking yourself in the deepest sense, “what is my WHY?”, will be cathartic and life changing. So much of what I learned in EML I continue to draw from every day. For new students, this is your opportunity to absorb knowledge from empathetic and amazing leaders in many fields, share with classmates equally as bright (you included), and create your legacy. For those who are finishing up the program or have graduated, it’s an excellent time to review notes and reconnect with what directed you to EML in the first place. 

Delve into why you are right here right now. What can you learn about yourself? For the new students, I recommend taking advantage of the writing assignments and though you aren’t in person, create opportunities to chat with classmates outside of class. Set up zoom meetings to connect with one-another or set up an old fashion phone call. If you’re geographically close, create a social distanced in-person meeting option. Don’t shy away from what this program is, even in its new state. I still have many treasured moments that I draw from daily in my personal and professional life from my days in Cohort 10. I have found the things I learned in EML are still quite applicable even in this virtual world.


"Delve into why you are right here right now. What can you learn about yourself?"


Professor Bob Denhardt, who is retired now, talked to us about the Magic of Relationships and how they are a major part of leadership. He gave validity to the relationships you create and that “squishy skills” are important to be a good leader. When given a negative circumstance, consider how to ‘reframe” the situation and create a positive outcome by using empathy and emotional intelligence. The connection with others does contribute to being a good leader and that fact does have a powerful impact on your success.

Professor Allen Weiss is a great resource. He is a professor of Marketing in the USC Marshall School and the Director of Mindful USC. I often channel his voice and say to myself “Am I present?” and “Oh, this is what it’s like to have Zoom NOT let me log on to my meeting for the last 5 minutes, which is going to make me late” then I take a breath and acknowledge without judgment and call in instead of logging in. Check out the website: 
https://mindful.usc.edu/ or download the app for resources.

Plain talk:
Professor Rick Culley is another great resource who filled us with many “Culleyisms” throughout the program. His statements that I refer back to, dust off and bring out front and center as needed are confirmation that EML continues to impact my life. For instance, in this virtual world, tasks change and seem to get elevated in urgency after every meeting. I often would find myself spinning so I would refer to my EML notes. One day I came across some notes from Rick’s class in 2018 and read “don’t let the urgent drive off the important”. It helped me to stay on task and prioritize mission critical tasks. Another helpful one is “just because you have something to say, doesn’t mean you need to say it” both have been helpful to refer to from time to time. There are hundreds of his sayings so try to take one of his courses if you have the chance. You will be challenged!


Be future orientated

Leadership is about being focused on the future. Whether it’s in school or at work, participate in each lecture or meeting with an open mind for the possibilities of where you can go with the information gathered. It’s important to read the room, even if it's a Zoom room, before deciding how the discussion will go. Create your opportunities and always, always challenge yourself to go farther. There is so much unknown these days and you have the power to lead into the future stronger than you ever imagined.

With me at all times, even today, I have a challenge coin designed by my EML Cohort 10 that has our true north compass and the statement: "Any five, Anytime, Anywhere". We grew to trust that no matter which 5 members were put together for projects, we all pulled together and produced amazing presentations. I know, no matter where I am in the world, I can call on EML for support and strength, yes, even in a global pandemic and civil unrest, I know I have people who have my back. That is leadership, that is empowering, that is EML.

So, here’s to a great future of continued learning and growth online or in-person. May you find your “WHY” and true north in your EML journey and make the virtual real in your day to day and beyond.

Download a brochure for USC's Executive Master of Leadership degree program.


Topics: Transformation, Blended Learning, Online Learning, Innovation, leadership, Distance Learning, Communication

Laura S. Wittcoff, DSW, LICSW

Written by Laura S. Wittcoff, DSW, LICSW

Dr. Wittcoff is the principal of the Intrinsic Group, serves as the Director of Capacity Development for the Research Data Alliance-US and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at USC. Dr. Wittcoff has over 20 years of experience leading consulting projects and coaching initiatives; some clients include: The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Research Data Alliance, Tower Cancer Research Foundation, Arete Preparatory Academy, Bethany Community Services, Family and Children Services of Nantucket, Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. and Catholic Charities. Dr. Wittcoff delivers workshops and presents at business conferences on topics related to organizational change, culture and messaging. Prior to moving to Los Angeles in 2014, Dr. Wittcoff served as the Associate Director of JRI Health’s Realize Resources, a capacity and leadership building practice and as an Adjunct Lecturer at Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. Previously, Dr. Wittcoff served as the Director of Training and Development at Surgency Inc., a management consulting firm, taught at Webster University, Vienna, Austria and is a licensed clinician providing counseling to individuals, couples, families and groups. Dr. Wittcoff was a contributing author to a Peer Program Development Toolkit, EAP Quarterly and EAP Digest and has presented at social work management conferences on raising the visibility of nonprofit organizations. Dr. Wittcoff continues to offer workshops, trainings and consultation on her method, Gamifying Engagement ® Dr. Wittcoff earned her DSW from USC, a post-graduate fellowship in Organization Development from the Boston Institute for Psychotherapy, her MSW from Boston University and her BA from Dickinson College. Dr. Wittcoff is certified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type indicator and was a key contributor to the team awarded the Brandon Hall Award recognizing advances in Learning and Development and was honored as the recipient of the Jane Addams Award from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, recognizing the faculty member selected by graduating students as providing academic, administrative and moral support. Laura is honored to serve on the UCLA Health System Board, and as a member of the Go North West Task Force and the Media and Content Advisory Committee for the Jewish National Fund.

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