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Student Experiences

Building Stories, Branding Leaders

Gandhi has a story. Winston Churchill has a story. Martin Luther King Jr. has a story. Great leadership is interwoven with great stories, and often this leadership comes when leaders perceive the power of their own stories.

Curtis LeBaron teaching a class

The Marriott School’s MBA program recognizes this link between leadership and story, drawing on it to mold great leaders. As a means of helping MBA students develop their stories and messages, all cohorts kick off the program with a first-semester course on leadership.

“The most important thing students learn in the class is how to articulate their stories,” says Curtis LeBaron, a Marriott School professor who teaches the course.

New MBA students spend the first half of the semester identifying their story and building their own leadership brand—drawing on their interests, passions, skills, and abilities. This helps match students with their leadership styles.

In the second half of the semester, students learn how their individual leadership styles fit into an organization. They study how leaders can change organizations and influence behavior. They also discuss managerial challenges and how people respond to motivators such as compensation and company culture.

“There are a number of ways in which leaders can influence others to perform well and do better,” LeBaron says. “We talk about all of them, but we discuss specifically the ways in which leaders influence others through storytelling.”

In the final assignment, students perfect their storytelling skills by creating a leadership profile. The profile has three components: where the students have been, where they are now, and where they are going—in essence, the past, present, and future. It’s a narrative the students will use throughout their job searches and career.

“When students are able to articulate their past—including their convictions and where they came from—in relation to the present, and then relate both of those to where they want to go,” LeBaron says, “they can effectively show recruiters how they plan to move forward and build on what they’ve previously accomplished.”

The training is paying off: last year’s post-graduation placement rate was 91 percent, and many students will tell you it was the storytelling and interview skills learned in the leadership course that helped them land that first job.

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MBA professor Curtis LeBaron takes a story-based approach to leadership education.
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“One of the most powerful tools you can have is your own story,” says Parley Vernon, a second-year MBA student from Alpine, Utah. “Creating and telling a story that resonates is essential for making a successful transition. In interviews I was able to tell my own story instead of just listing off résumé points, which helped me land my internship with Visa.”

Along with boosting professional development, the course also furthers the Marriott School’s mission to develop “men and women of faith, character, and professional ability who will become outstanding leaders.”

“Our deliberate approach to leadership development, and a particular focus on building on one’s strengths, benefits not only our students,” says outgoing MBA director John Bingham, “but also benefits the companies where they work, the communities where they live, the families they rear, and the church callings they serve in.”


Article written by M’Leah Ricker Manuele