UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Leadership simulation puts principles into practice


As soon as the bright red digital clock in front of the room began ticking away the seconds, student teams in the Leadership Immersion sprang into action. They dove into the Magnetic Leadership Simulation, a day-long exercise that creates the pressures of a real-world management setting in the safety of a classroom.

They took on the roles of managers brainstorming new business strategies, employees scrambling to meet deadlines, and customers demanding updates. The Kenan Center was transformed into a bustling corporate headquarters.

The Leadership Immersion is truly a one-of-kind MBA course: UNC Kenan-Flagler is the only school to offer an entire module (mini-semester) for students to focus solely on developing as leaders. Most students don’t take other classes while in the Leadership Immersion, which provides apprentice-like competitions, business simulations, outdoor challenges, along with individual coaching and feedback from executive coaches.Mag Lead Challenge

“One of the things we try to do is give everyone the opportunity to try on a leadership role,” said executive leadership coach Randy Marcuson, who led Embrex as president, CEO and board member for 17 years. “This simulation gives students a chance to exercise new skills and experience new situations that they’re maybe not as comfortable with. It’s a safe place to experiment, fail, receive feedback and recover.”

The simulation turned student teams into divisions of a company that manufactures and repairs magnetic equipment. Magnetic Leadership challenged student teams to design and execute business plans, manage resources and satisfy customers for three “years” or rounds of the simulation. While three students took charge of strategy as the management team, others served in a variety of operations and support roles, ranging from production to marketing.

In addition to navigating the standard challenges of daily business operations, teams adapted to curveballs built into the simulation, such as finding a way to satisfy sudden customer demand for products “Made in the USA.” They also competed against each other to achieve the highest net profit, customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

“We were put in a high-pressure situation where we had to deliver results, but the clock was always ticking,” said Anand Murali (MBA ’13). “There are so many things happening simultaneously – you have to know how to organize, how to prioritize and delegate tasks, and how to keep the team motivated.

“Basically you have to put all the theories you’ve learned so far into practice,” said Murali, who is preparing for a position in Eastman Chemical’s commercial leadership development program after graduation.

After the simulation ended, students received specific evaluations and suggestions from their teammates and their executive coaches. Magnetic Leadership incorporates the concept of “feed forward” into the reflection portion of the exercise to encourage participants to focus on how they can improve in the future, rather than simply analyzing their past performance. 

“One of the great things about this program is that you get so much feedback, and that helps you become much more self-aware than you were going in,” said Hampton Barclay (MBA ’13), who will join Bank of America’s corporate workplace group after graduation. “This simulation in particular showed me a lot about where I need to improve.”

Students apply what they learned about their individual leadership styles and general best management practices to several other active learning challenges throughout the Leadership Immersion. The Magnetic Leadership Simulation is just one part of a complete process designed to provide students with the maximum amount of hands-on experience, helping ensure that they will feel comfortable and confident in their future management roles.

“I think the biggest takeaway for students is that leadership takes practice – sustained, lifelong practice,” said Lorena Clark, an executive coach with more than 30 years of leadership experience in major multinational corporations. “But first you have to understand the skills you need to practice and learn the methods or approaches to best implement them.”