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Leadership Skills for Today’s Multicultural Workplace

The skills and instruction you will receive from TROY’s MSM program will be an asset when stepping into a leadership role in any organization.

The skills and instruction you will receive from TROY’s MSM program will be an asset when stepping into a leadership role in any organization.

Patricia Matuszek, Ph.D. has held many different leadership roles in her 22-year career at Troy University. She’s been the chair of the management program, the chair of graduate programs, the chair of undergraduate programs, the head of accreditation, and has been on numerous long-standing committees, all for the Sorrell College of Business. However, it’s back in the classroom in her role as a professor in TROY’s Master of Science in Management (MSM) program, where she demonstrates her impactful leadership skills.

Dr. Matuszek
Dr. Matuszek

“I have done my administration time at TROY,” says Dr. Matuszek. “I want to spend my last few years doing what I like to do best, and that’s teaching and engaging with students, making sure that they get the best education that they can get, and developing leadership skills.”

Dr. Matuszek describes herself as a behaviorist.

“I look at how people behave, why they do what they do, and how to get people to change,” says Dr. Matuszek. “My specialties are developing leadership skills, women in leadership, ethics, and change management.”

According to Dr. Matuszek, the ability to change is a vital component of team leadership in today’s multicultural workplace.

How to be a Good Boss

For a student learning how to be a good manager, Dr. Matuszek says the process of understanding change management can be something of a rollercoaster.

“In one of our core courses, we teach our students how to get people to change,” says Dr. Matuszek. “They come in thinking you get people to change by telling them to change. The one thing people won’t do when you tell them to change, is change. They’ll give it a try for five minutes and they don’t like it, so they go back to their old ways. So this is an intensive course, and it carries one of our primary assessments — producing a change plan.”

When working on their change plan, students will focus their efforts on building effective leadership skills as part of a team.

“One of the things that our employers tell us, and that I read constantly, is that Americans don’t work in teams very well,” says Dr. Matuszek. “So we put them into teams and reinforce the importance of learning to work with others. You’re not going to get to be a big autonomous guru out there and do it all by yourself. You probably don’t want to be that anyway, so we force the issue of having them work in teams.”

Dr. Matuszek’s students are largely professionals who come from a wide range of companies and organizations, including Google, Amazon, Walmart, the State of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and across all of the United States armed services.

“When they come to our classes, they go back with something to deliver to their organizations,” says Dr. Matuszek. “For us, this is the very heart and soul of the program. The one thing that leaders in these organizations don’t do is stand around, doing nothing, and telling other people to change. They have to walk the walk and talk the talk, and if they don’t do that in these modern times, they don’t get to be leaders for very long.”

Megan Burke, a Lieutenant Colonel in theUnited States Army, agrees that leaders need to be flexible and know how to communicate. Burke, who graduated from TROY in 2018 with a Master of Science in Management, says, “As a leader, you MUST be adaptable. No one person follows the same way. You must also recognize the differences in the way you need to communicate with followers. Not everyone speaks the same ‘language.’”

Dr. Matuszek adds that if you are going to improve as a leader, you have to learn to lead by example.

“If you want to be a legitimate leader, you are going to do it ethically,” says Dr. Matuszek. “You are going to do it with a vision for others, and you accept the premise that you have to do the hard, scary stuff. That’s where your responsibility steps in.”

Effective Leadership Skills in Today’s Multicultural Workplace

According to Dr. Matuszek, effective communication in leadership will almost certainly involve understanding how to navigate the nuance of a multicultural workplace. This can be a challenging topic for many students.

“Most people don’t understand that multiculturalism isn’t about the color of your skin,” says Dr. Matuszek. “Multiculturalism means the way you think and the way you go about decisions. Understanding multiculturalism is about appreciating what everybody brings to the table whether that person is male, female, black, white, introvert or extrovert.”

Dr. Matuszek explains that people have to be prepared to listen if they are going to benefit from multiculturalism.

“Multiculturalism is so rich, it tells us so much, and it makes us smart,” says Dr. Matuszek. “The challenge is to turn your brain off and be prepared to listen and learn from others. As Americans, we are bold and we are brave and we’re outspoken to a fault. We know we are good at things. That, for me, is far and away the biggest problem in multiculturalism. Then we have somebody in India say, ‘You know our culture is 10,000 years old,’ and our brains cannot process that.”

Dr. Matuszek encourages her students to open their minds, and take responsibility for the legacy they will create as leaders.

“You get to leave the message on this earth that you want to leave,” says Dr. Matuszek. “You get to choose your legacy. What message do you want to leave?”

Military Leadership Skills

One group of students Dr. Matuszek particularly enjoys working with is her military students.

“Our military people are far and away some of our best students,” says Dr. Matuszek. “They come to us prepared. Many of them already have a great deal of rank and leadership experience.”

Dr. Matuszek explains there are typically two types of military students in the master’s program.

“You cannot be promoted after a certain rank in the United States military without a graduate degree,” says Dr. Matuszek. “So these students are either in the program for their ‘boards’ — going up before a board of people to be considered for promotion — or they are doing it to transition out of the military.”

Developing effective leadership skills in highly disciplined military personnel does not come without its challenges. This is because good leadership in the military can be very different from what is perceived as good leadership in the workplace.

“Americans are not great with authoritarianism,” says Dr. Matuszek. “They much prefer participative leadership.”

Dr. Matuszek tells her military students that they have to change the way they think about leadership.

“We love our military service members and thank them all the time for their service,” says Dr. Matuszek. She adds that their military experience is highly valued outside the military as well, but working and being a leader in a civilian environment requires a shift in approach. “When it comes to leadership in the civilian population, if they get all bossy and try and pull all of that ‘I told you to do this,’ they are going to get a response that’s, ‘Uh-uh.’ So with our military students, the program sets the stage and delivers the skills so they can segue out of the military and into the civilian workforce again.”

Dr. Matuszek attributes teamwork to the TROY program’s success in helping military students think like civilian leaders.

“You may have somebody from the military teaming up to work with somebody from Walmart, somebody from the State of Alabama, and somebody else who just dropped in from Ohio State University,” says Dr. Matuszek. “We put them in a group, tell them that they know the rules, and say ‘Go.'”

Dr. Matuszek suggests that the process is much harder than many students think it is going to be.

“They stay in that group only for the duration of that class, and then we mix the teams up again to keep it interesting,” says Dr. Matuszek. “It’s helping them to prepare to be around other people. They may have just been in military education programs before. They are now in full education with people who are working at these very different organizations. They’ll quickly learn that not everybody will be fighting to make the promotions in civilian roles. Some people don’t want to work at all. They’ve got to learn how to lead in these very different circumstances.”

And, says Burke, learning to lead is something anyone can work toward. “You can be a natural leader but even if you are a natural leader, you can always improve those skills by learning and perfecting different techniques.”

Real-World Experience

Regardless of a student’s background, they are all eager to implement the leadership skills they learn at TROY on the job.

“It’s unusual for a university professor to say ‘I don’t need internships,’” says Dr. Matuszek. “As a rule, my students are all fully employed. So our internships are not what you think of as the classic internship. Our internships are the papers and projects that they take back to their employers.”

Dr. Matuszek is proud of the impact many of her students’ classwork has made in various organizations.

“I’m bragging, but my students’ work goes to the Generals,” says Dr. Matuszek. “Whenever my students write a plan, it goes to a General or a senior manager, and they sign off ‘Yes or no, we’re going to do that.’ They’ve done some remarkable things with these plans. It keeps climbing because they look at all the research that they did and are so amazed at what they’ve laid out for them.”

Leadership Skills in Remote Workplaces

Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic made working from home the new normal for many, global businesses were already adjusting to remote working with employee talent that could be spread around the world. This presents several challenges for leadership teams.

“Leadership is all about relationships,” says Dr. Matuszek. “You cannot lead people with whom you don’t have a relationship. That’s just a fact. One of the things that COVID told us is that we can have strong leaders, but it doesn’t do any good if you cannot get through to the other people.”

Dr. Matuszek explains that this is one area where TROY has a very real advantage.

“We have a robust, very well-developed online presence at TROY,” says Dr. Matuszek. “We were a first-mover in that area. Our leadership had that forward-looking vision that has helped us through these difficult times.”

Burke completed her MSM program mainly online, with some in-person classes. She benefitted from both experiences. “I enjoyed both styles of learning. The online portion allowed me to go and watch class if I missed it, while being in person was helpful to get the in-person networking down.”

For students who need greater flexibility, the management program is offered 100% online, making it more accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to incorporate graduate education into their already busy lives.

“I can take education to millions of people,” says Dr. Matuszek. “I can reach out and get them access to an education they would never have gotten before. That’s one reason why we have so many military people; we make it convenient and flexible for them.”

Dr. Matuszek insists that online learning is only as good as the faculty leading the program, and relationships still count for everything.

“The program has a core faculty of five people,” says Dr. Matuszek. “We all agree that we don’t stop at a computer screen. We don’t stop at email. We reach out with telephones. All of this technology doesn’t mean a thing if you are not good at reaching out and touching people and creating a relationship with them. We can use technology to touch anybody worldwide to reach out and have meetings with them. So if I have a student who is just having a meltdown moment, I can pick up the telephone and talk them through that problem.”

Dr. Matuszek highlights a recent conversation with a military student struggling to balance his professional and academic life.

“He told me that his homework was going to be late because a number of his colleagues were sick with COVID, and another member of his unit had suffered a family bereavement,” says Dr. Matuszek. “I figured out, while I couldn’t help him with his work problems, I could help lift his mood. So I jumped in the car and drove to the grocery store, where I bought a big sack of chocolate and took it up to his base. Chocolate makes everything better.”

Dr. Matuszek believes that by leading by example and showing compassion for her students, she lays the groundwork for them to look at leadership holistically, rather than as an individual problem. This allows them to understand better where and when leadership is needed and what the organization needs to continue to be successful.

“I’m here to bring education to my students any way I can,” says Dr. Matuszek. “If part of that education means that as a leader, I drop everything for an hour or two, long enough to check on one person, that’s what I’ll do. That’s the lesson I want our students to walk away with.”

Learn More About Developing Leadership Skills

As for Burke, she’s applying the skills she learned in the MSM program in her current position with the U.S. Army as Chief, Army North G-3/7 Aviation, Personnel Recovery Coordination Cell. “I use what I have learned to pay more attention to the people I am leading. It has been my experience that if I keep the higher-level problems away or assist someone with a personal problem they are having, or even give them the time to take care of it, they will take care of you as their leader and make sure they do their job.”

What advice would she give to someone who wants to improve their leadership skills? “Learn about leadership but understand that every person is different and be ready to adjust your technique as required.”

To learn more about how you can develop your leadership skills with a Master of Science in Management from TROY, visit the program page on our website.

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