Executive MBA students and alumni gathered in Bellevue for the conference.

Executive MBA Students Build Leadership and Change Management Skills at Conference

By Mia Gleason

The 2022 Executive MBA Leadership Conference brought together students and alumni for two days of networking, learning, and conversations at the Bellevue Westin Hotel in September.

Conference speakers Michael Nassirian, Raquel Bono (‘15 EMBA), and Melissa Reaves led workshop sessions with pointers on developing leadership through finding purpose, inspiring teams, initiating change in organizations, and telling stories to create buy-in.

“I am so proud to sponsor the EMBA Leadership Conference,” said Cheryl Oliver, Carson College associate dean for professional programs. “Year over year, our team levels up the opportunity for students and alumni to broaden and deepen their networks, learn from top industry experts, and develop their leadership acumen. I was particularly impressed with the creativity and engagement of attendees this year given the many other pressures they face as leaders in 2022.”

Avoiding Burnout and Finding Purpose

Michael Nassirian talked about finding passion and purpose at work.

Avoiding burnout and finding motivation has been a theme in corporate America following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nassirian, a senior executive and author of I’m Tired: How to Survive and Succeed in Corporate America, discussed causes of burnout among employees and encouraged EMBA students and alumni to dig deep to find their passion and purpose in the workplace.

“Come to work with a passion; be there for a reason. Do not go there for the sake of work. You need to show up for more,” Nassirian said. “Your passion and your attitude are different than your colleagues’, so bring that to the table.”

Nassirian encouraged attendees to think of their careers as startups from an entrepreneurial perspective. When he was working at the corporate level, he was struck by the limited flexibility in job duties and lack of room for growth.

“Corporations have ways in which they want you to do work. Take that and elevate it to the next level,” Nassirian said. “Bring innovation into the fold.”

People are happier when they own their career and their work life, he added.

Growing Leadership in Challenging Times

Bono, a retired Navy vice admiral, discussed how to grow executive-level leadership skills throughout a career. Often, breakthroughs follow truly difficult situations, she said.

“It was my responsibility to bring uncomfortable situations to my teams to initiate the acceptance of change,” she said. “When they began to feel uncomfortable, then I knew they were beginning to recognize that something new—change—was starting to happen.”

During her career, Bono encouraged her leaders to lean far forward into the idea of change. She advised conference participants to adopt a similar mentality when evaluating leadership opportunities in their careers.

Bono was the first woman surgeon in the military to hold the rank of vice admiral. She was director of the Department of Defense’s Health Agency, which allows the Army, Navy, and Air Force to provide a medical force in times of war and peace.

After her military retirement, Governor Jay Inslee recruited her to be Washington state’s COVID-19 hospital czar, managing the hospital surge capacity during the early days of the pandemic.

Reflecting on her career, Bono said her proudest work was bringing together people on her teams. Creating a deep level of trust on her teams allowed them to make changes leading to amazing accomplishments, she said.

Bono now works for Viking Cruise Ships, where she continues to deploy her skills in helping teams accept change.

Using Storytelling for Impact

Effective leaders use storytelling to emotionally connect with their audience to maximize their impact, said Reaves, founder and chief executive of Story Fruition, an executive mentorship firm helping leaders improve their communication skills.

“We are always going to need data and graphs in presentations, but we need stories behind the data to create buy-in with customers, shareholders, investors, and partners,” Reaves says. “You have to put heart behind the chart.”

Reaves gave several examples of how presentation slides can either support the speaker or upstage the speaker with too much info and data. When that happens, “you’ll lose the audiences’ ability to actively listen to you as the speaker,” she pointed out.

In her session, Reaves walked executives through the essence of storytelling, emphasizing the importance of captivating their audiences. “We want your audience to be mesmerized because you help them see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and feel it with your storytelling skills—especially when presenting data,” said Reaves. “Look at your presentations as an opportunity to educate as you entertain.”

“Storytelling is an essential business skill for all leaders and rising stars,” she said. “So, tell your stories to impart your decades of wisdom, and tell them well.”

Learn more about online degrees, online MBAs, and Executive MBAs at the Carson College of Business.