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Learning to Lead

USC Marshall Freshman Honors Students Learn Leadership Skills from MBV Students

November 14, 2017
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Two USC Marshall freshmen honors students jogged across the Bridge Hall lawn.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!”  Army Reserve Blackhawk helicopter mechanic Jabbar Magruder bellowed out, sounding very much like a drill sergeant. The freshmen picked up their pace and were very quickly with the rest of their fellow students on the other side of the lawn, awaiting further instructions.

Freshman members of the USC Marshall Global Leadership Program (GLP), a select cohort of the top academic achievers, met with 24 active duty and veteran military personnel who are part of the 90-member Cohort V students in Marshall’s Master of Business for Veteran’s (MBV) program on Friday, Oct. 27 for a little…perspective shift.

"These two groups have a lot to teach each other." --Robert Turrill, professor emeritus of clinical management and organization and academic director of the MBV program

“We wanted the two groups to get together,” said Robert Turrill, professor emeritus of clinical management and organization who is also the academic director of the MBV program. “We wanted the freshmen to know about the MBV-ers and vice versa. They have a lot to teach each other.”

The purpose of the day’s activities, he said, was to introduce the freshmen to military leadership values, orientations, and techniques and to demonstrate similarities and differences with other concepts of business leadership. 

“The veterans have a powerful approach to effective leadership to share with this select group of freshmen,” said Turrill.

On the docket for the day: Lessons about humility, sacrifice, responsibility and /accountability (ownership), and technical competence.

The MBV students were there on their Friday off. Many drove in from far-flung locales including China Lake, Palmdale and San Diego. “They’ve volunteered to do this,” said Turrill. “It’s that important to them. They designed and delivered the entire three-hour program to the freshmen.”

Taking Charge

Overseeing an exercise on technical and tactical competency was Eduardo “Ed” Buenaflor, a Navy Master Chief and combat helicopter expert. He ran the "Improvised stretcher" exercise, designed to stimulate creativity and innovation, develop teamwork and communication, and challenge leadership through adversity.

First he chose a group leader and provided a mission brief: rescue injured personnel and get to them a safe zone. Once there, they'd be rescued by helicopter (simulated, of course).

On the ground around them were two 100-lb, life-size dummies and a variety of materials, poles, duct tape, tents. Should they improvise a stretcher? How? They’d have to figure that out on their own.

Next, Buenaflor added a time pressure, constantly reminding them of the ticking clock. Then he upped the ante:

"You're in enemy territory here! Your time is running out. Let's go!"

Students were challenged to keep focused and work as a team, he said. “As a leader, you can’t get too caught up in the details or you are bound to run into a hazard,” he told them. “Leaders need to see the way forward and give clear direction to their people to avoid falling in a hazard.”

In the end, students made it to the “safe zone” with their rescues with three minutes to spare. “When I asked for some reflection of the exercise from the team leaders, their responses were all similar,” he said. “’if I took a minute to evaluate my resources, develop a plan, and look ahead, I would have avoided more injuries [simulated] to my team.’”

There were many other leadership talking points throughout the exercise, such as delegation, communication, and teamwork. And that was just one of the four groups. Students rotated throughout the day.

The Payoff

Students agreed the day put them to the test…and they came away with a lot of insights. “They put us through a lot of team-building exercises that helped develop our leadership skills. Very interactive and collaborative,” said Natalia Ayoub ’21. “It was a fantastic way to get to know the MBV guys and to grow closer with other GLP students. It was very productive.”

It was a worthwhile day for the MBV students as well. “As a Master Chief in the Navy, I understand that leaders in the military are forged over time and experience,” said Buenaflor. “It takes them many years to develop as effective leaders. The Global Leadership Program is doing something right by starting the leadership training early.”

Said Ayoub: “The day was probably the strongest example I’ve experienced as a freshman of the Trojan Family Network.”