Penn State Abington examines transformational leadership

On the evening of Oct. 13, Penn State Abington treated its community guests to a panel discussion on a topic crucial in today's world: transformational leadership. What are the traits of a good leader? What are companies looking for in new hires? What's it like to manage generation Xers and Yers? What about politics in the workplace? How do you take criticism constructively? Questions ranged from global management to blue collar management. All of this and more was addressed by a panel of successful Penn State alumni.

The moderator, Pamela Loughner, president of Loughner and Associates consulting firm, spoke of the history of the Transformational Leadership Theory and provided the definition as, "Idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration." In laymen's terms, a transformational leader is a good role model for employees (followers) to emulate, is able to energize his/her followers to do more than expected, can look at problems in a new way and think outside the box, and be able to get to the heart of what matters most to individuals.

Panelist Jeff Cohen, president and co-founder of Rice Cohen International (RCI) -- one of the 30 largest executive search firms in North America, was happy to be back on the campus where he started his college career. With his 24 years in the executive search business, Cohen had much to say and lots of advice to give on job searches, interviewing and what qualities organizations look for in leaders.

Cohen explained a few of his trade secrets such as using an interviewing/hiring technique he calls STAR, which stands for situation, task, action taken and results. He also highlighted the basic negative-positive-negative speaking approach that can be used to motivate employees.

According to Cohen, a leader should "have the ability to assess and hire people and put them in the right places where they're going to add the most value to the organization." A leader should also be able to clearly communicate his/her vision and have the skills to motivate people. "Hire right, put people in positions to be successful and be able to motivate and make people feel good," enthused Cohen.

Panelist Patricia Foell earned her bachelor's degree from Penn State in 1974 and two master's degrees from the University of Chicago. She's been working her way to the top of the banking industry and currently works for MasterCard Advisors. Foell, who models herself after a supervisor who demonstrated true leadership qualities earlier in her career, believes he helped her become a successful leader.

"He was laser focused and communicated to us what he wanted to achieve. We always had a compass. He was extremely inclusive -- walking out on the floor, sitting in cubicles, he got to know people personally. This created trust. When you have trust you can do so much more. I try to emulate that inclusive behavior and build a real team. When you do that, the talent comes to you."

Foell also addressed the female half of the audience. "It's important in the workforce to recognize that women have more opportunity than they ever had before. In a corporate environment ... there still is somewhat of a double standard out there. You are held to much more scrutiny than men. You have to be able to recognize that. Be aware of it and support other women, form networks, share. There's a lot you can learn from each other."

The third panelist, Michael Kutner, also started college at Penn State Abington before finishing his degree in finance at University Park. He became business savvy thanks to his job experiences at CIGNA, General Electric and Johnson and Johnson. Currently, Kutner is the principle/senior management director of North Highland Company, an independent management and technology consulting firm. His take on leadership is all about vision, surrounding yourself with the right people and knowing your level of risk.

"Be able to have that clear compelling direction," Kutner said. "Building coalitions is [also] a great skill in all facets of our lives. To be able to partner with people in a meaningful, compelling way, getting things done, that carries a lot of personal reward. And, know what your tolerance of risk is. Push on that circle of confidence as much as you can."

Ending the presentation with true blue and white flair, Kutner cited our own Joe Paterno as a person with great leadership qualities.