Furman Liberal Arts Leadership

Liberal Arts Leadership at Furman is an executive development program which relates literary works and film to current business realities and organizational performance.

We consider themes that emerge to discern organizational applications such as strategy, empowerment, decision making, conflict management, vision, and adaptive change. At Furman, we believe there is great value in reflecting on cumulative human experiences as captured in the humanities, and these experiences have very real applications in the business world.

An esteemed professor once pointed out that in 15–20 years, when students had mastered their professional craft, they would yearn to return to the things fascinated them most in school. She foreshadowed their desire to relive a time when discovery and pure learning were forces in their existence. This executive program could well be that once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. We invite you to join us on such a journey.

Summer Orientation

Setting the Stage: LAL Overview and Participant Orientation


Getting Grounded: Down to Earth Pragmatism

  • Segment I: Culture, Vision, & Adaptive Change (Summers)
      Faculty: Dr. Suzy Summers
      Film: Apollo 13
      Literature: The Right Stuff

      In both these segments we will explore the relationships between Organizational Culture, Vision, Change, and Leadership. The underlying culture at NASA that we will observe in Apollo 13 is one that embraces and expects change. In dealing with the potentially catastrophic failure of the Apollo 13 mission, we will discuss how leadership and followership play out in such a culture, and examine the importance and form of leadership and vision required for successful organizational adaptation to change within this culture.

  • Segment II: Culture, Vision, & Adaptive Change (Abernethy)
      Faculty: Dr. Ken Abernethy
      Film: 42 – The Jackie Robinson Story
      Literature: The Right Stuff

      In this segment we will explore change within a very different culture -- the very traditional, even reactionary, culture of Major League Baseball in the late 1940's in addressing the very early days of the Civil Rights movement. Of course, Baseball was really only a reflection of the US culture as it mounted stiff resistance to the move toward racial equality. In the movie 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, once again we will focus on the interplay of culture, vision, and leadership in managing change -- this time in the context of a cultural of resistance to change. We will seek leadership lessons by contrasting the kind of leadership and vision required for success in the two very different organizational cultures of NASA and Major League Baseball.


Coming In From the Cold: Surviving Setbacks and Overcoming Threats

  • Segment III: Conflict and Crisis Management
      Faculty: Dr. Lloyd Benson
      Film: Lincoln
      Literature: Hospital Sketches

      The end of slavery was hardly a foregone conclusion when the Civil War erupted in 1861. Powerful economic and political stakeholders in the North as well as the South profited from slavery and deeply despised the abolitionist agenda. As the movie Lincoln shows, the passage of the thirteenth amendment and the legal demise of slavery was far from certain even as the war drew to a close. The film's depiction of leadership strategies in the face of competing imperatives, deep organizational loyalties, disruptive events, and the bare-knuckle realities of legislative bargaining provides a fine illustration of management complexities and mission focus in the face of adversity. Likewise, Louisa May Alcott's quasi-autobiographical work Hospital Sketches gives us a profound case study of crisis management and persistence in the face of setbacks. Her account of the challenges young women faced in establishing authority and coping with the fears and traumas of the wounded and dying is one of the most revealing works to come out of the Civil War era

  • Segment IV: Decision Making and Ethical Judgment
      Faculty: Dr. Margaret Oakes
      Film: Good Night and Good Luck
      Literature: Lance Corporal Berg

      Good Night and Good Luck and "Lance Corporal Berg" pose several knotty ethical problems. The film explores the personal and professional problems caused by political connections and rumor. Originally created in 1938 to hunt out Nazis, the committee became a weapon against many Americans as Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin wielded the force of the committee to end jobs, professional relationships, and sometime even lives. For our purposes, it raises questions of the power of workplace gossip, the stigma of asserting "different" ideas, and the poison of public scrutiny. Bonhoeffer's short story, written while he was imprisoned in the Flossenberg concentration camp shortly before his execution, concerns the conflicts between a cowardly kommendant of a camp for German deserters and a decorated German soldier assigned to work there who sympathizes with the plight of the prisoners. As we find ourselves rooting for the Nazi soldier, we have to confront and separate our political views from our understanding of the decent treatment of suffering human beings. How do we decide what is the right thing to do? What kinds of criteria do we use, and how do we avoid the evils of absolutism or relativism?


New Beginnings: Inspiring Vision and Leading Change

  • Segment V: Navigating Uncertainty in a Complex World
      Faculty: Dr. Ken Peterson
      Film: 13 Days
      Literature: Into Thin Air

      Today's leaders must often make quick decisions in a complex environment with less than perfect information. This segment will explore decision making in high pressure situations in the face of uncertainty and imperfect information through the use of Jon Krakauer's, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster and Roger Donaldson's 13 Days, a dramatization of the Kennedy administration's effort to avert nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Why did so many of Krakauer's fellow climbers perish when the risks of the expedition were well-known and the leaders were highly-experienced? How did President Kennedy and his associates avert a disastrous nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union when they couldn't be sure what was happening on the ground in Cuba or what the Soviets were thinking? Our conversation will focus on the lessons from these disparate events—one failure and one success—that pertain to modern-day decision-making in business and government when information is scarce or imperfect.

  • Segment VI: Power and Identity
      Faculty: Dr. Aaron Simmons
      Film: Memento
      Literature: This Is Water

      Who am I? This question is asked by professional philosophers and also children in kindergarten. Trying to figure out one's own identity is connected to the task of giving one's life meaning. What matters for one person may not matter for another person. What is considered obvious to one is perhaps deeply perplexing for another. Trying to get clear on one's identity requires thinking well about what one values, loves, desires, and opposes. Yet, such notions are not innocent. We do not start from zero when engaging the world. Rather, we are always already committed, oriented, and implicated in systems of meaning and networks of power. In this segment, we will think about the relationship between power and identity such that we can pay better attention to the way that our identities are shaped by invisible influences that often remain unacknowledged in our daily lives. Thinking well about one's legacy (in life and in business) requires working hard to relate to power in honest ways. What does it mean to be "in control?" How should I respond to uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk in ways that cultivate a self of which I am proud? By watching the film, Memento, we will consider the ways in which our identities are often constructions shaped by outside influence. Yet, by reading David Foster Wallace's This is Water, we will wrestle with what we can do to own ourselves and determine our identities in ways that are reflective and, hopefully, virtuous.


​​​​​​​​​Tuition for the course is $3950.00. Enrollment is currently closed.


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