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McLauchlan Leadership Series Celebrates its Fifth Year of Student Success

When Michelle Davis was accepted as a McLauchlan Leadership Fellow during her second year in North Carolina State University’s Jenkins MBA Program, she was working at a job she didn’t like very much.

She found a group of McLauchlan Fellows who seemed to love their companies and their jobs. Davis could have felt discouraged, hearing about how others had found their niche while she had not. But she’d already decided she was going to take advantage of everything the Jenkins MBA had to offer, and being a McLauchlan Fellow was no exception.

“I said to myself, I’m going to leverage this to my advantage,” Davis recalls. “And from there, I didn’t realize just how impactful the McLauchlan program would be on my life.”

Davis is one of more than 100 Jenkins MBA students in NC State’s Poole College of Management to take part in the McLauchlan Leadership Series, now in its fifth year. Ask around, and others will share their own stories about the significant impact the program has had on their lives.

The McLauchlan Leadership Series is a leadership development program started in 2015 with a gift from Russ and Cara McLauchlan. Fellows take part in three sessions, each of which includes a Friday evening and all day Saturday. Each session has its own focus: personal leadership, team leadership, and organizational leadership. In addition to those sessions, students receive several unique benefits. These include extensive executive interaction, executive coaching, and a $300 gift to pursue a “personal leadership challenge.”

It’s not uncommon to see Russ and Cara McLauchlan mingling with the McLauchlan Fellows during the program. Part of the couple’s intention in supporting the program is to stay involved in making an impact on students in their professional and personal lives.

“These students are smart, aggressive, and want to know more,” Russ McLauchlan said. “We wanted people who had potential and we just felt that if we put our face in front of it, it would be a more genuine approach.”

Leigh Shamblin, director of Leadership and professor of practice in the Poole College of Management, oversees the McLauchlan Leadership Series.

“It’s made such a difference for people because it’s time that they take to focus on themselves and really develop themselves,” she said.

Through the program, Shamblin said she’s seen students truly develop a deeper understanding of themselves. This is the first key to leadership, she said.

“Who you are is really how you lead,” Shamblin said.




Cara McLauchlan, who also sits on the selection committee, said she’s always pleased to see that each student manages to get something different and personal out of the program.

“My hope for them is that they will discover what it is that they truly are gifted at, and be able to bring forth more of that into their everyday lives,” she said. “I feel like we are lucky to be able to create this space for students to explore and learn more about themselves.”

Fellows develop a deeper understanding of leadership principles and challenges, and equally significant, they develop confidence, Shamblin said.

“That confidence is not only in themselves, but in helping others,” she said. “I’ve seen that consistently, person after person – I’ve seen a change in every person.”

“For many, it gives them the confidence to take that next step in the direction they want their lives to go.”

Davis can attest to that. She’s no longer at that job that was making her unhappy. When she received the offer for her current job, Cara McLauchlan was one of the first people she called to say thank you.

“I leveraged those things I learned about myself during the McLauchlan Leadership Series,” Davis said. “When I sat in front of my next employer, I was able to say, ‘here’s my brand.’”

Dana Lanner, another McLauchlan Fellow, said the materials and overall experience stood out for her, as well as her experience with the other fellows.

“Not only was the material meaningful that was presented in the program – about storytelling, about energy leadership, about team work, and all of the other things they worked with us on – but hearing all the personal stories was both inspiring and encouraging,” Lanner said. “It’s very emotional, very heartfelt, you feel bonded and very supported.”

Lanner entered the program with years of professional experience, but said being a decision maker could still be intimidating.

“We were facing our fears – being a leader is scary – to know that you were all going through that together and you weren’t alone in your feelings about that, and to have that support and that sounding board was so important,” she said.

That confidence in facing fears helped in Lanner personal life as well. She used her $300 personal development stipend to jump out of an airplane – an exercise in facing fears and placing her trust in someone else. Then last summer, she received a cancer diagnosis.

“With the cancer diagnosis, my first thought was, ‘I’m jumping out of that plane again,” Lanner said. “The biopsy results were like standing at the open door of that plane again – I wouldn’t have handled it that way, had I not had this experience in the McLauchlan Program.”

“It enabled me to face great challenges and hardships in life in a much better way, I will forever be grateful.”