Leadership Lessons from Michigan Ross Can Change the U.S. Air Force

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By Esteban Castellanos, MBA ‘15 

I’ve spent my career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and have had the luxury of significant exposure to leadership development. I can tell you, the leadership seminars at Ross have been remarkable.

Unlike the leadership training I received in the Air Force, the Executive MBA Leadership Development Program (LDP) at Ross is unique because it brings a hard science look to soft skills.

I took this on Veteran's Day 2008, flying troops into Iraq.

In just one day, Professor Scott DeRue helped me understand exactly how to recognize, appreciate, and leverage key complementing values among team members to build a better team. An individual’s behaviors align with one of four dominant values: community, process, results, or innovation; and DeRue showed us how people intrinsically rely on their preferred dominant value when contributing to a team.

DeRue also laid out a context for identifying these dominant values, and this has allowed me to see the Air Force, and my place in the organization, in an entirely new light. I feel far better equipped to assemble, understand, and motivate a team for certain goals or projects.

I was so affected by how fundamentally Professor DeRue’s seminar shifted my perspective that I began working with a former commanding officer to explore bringing this aspect of Ross’ LDP into the U.S. Air Force’s Squadron Officer College (a leadership school for military officers).

I really believe the lessons gained from the research and teaching here at Ross can profoundly reshape leadership styles, team dynamics, and problem solving methods within the U.S. Air Force officer corps.

But this one-day lesson from DeRue is just the start. The spectrum of Ross’ LDP topics range from speakers who teach us how to handle press conferences, to lessons on managing difficult conversations, and even Fireside Chat Interviews with the CFO of Wells Fargo and the CEO of a technology start-up.

Ross’ LDP has delivered some lessons I don’t want to forget, and while I can see the benefit it can bring to the military, the military can offer some lessons of its own -- the hard lessons that can be learned from leading people during war.

I’ve heard powerful stories of leadership from a Gulf War veteran who found himself a prisoner of war. I’ve heard moving narratives about leadership in challenging times, and the virtues of leaders under serious duress.

Serving in Afghanistan when things went wrong, or when change was forced upon me has provided me some of my most unforgettable leadership lessons, but Ross’ Leadership Development Program has given me some of the most life-changing.


Esteban Castellanos is a Major in the Air Force and a student in the Michigan Ross Executive MBA Program in Los Angeles, CA., (but takes his homework to Afghanistan sometimes too!). He is set to graduate in May 2015.