School of Business Administration

Leading through human connection: Executive MBA program builds business skills and emotional intelligence for COO

icon of a calendarJuly 19, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn

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Leading through human connection: Executive MBA program builds business skills and emotional intelligence for COO

Stephanie Prechowski, an EMBA student, posing for a photo.
OU's EMBA program is strengthening Stephanie Prechowski's leadership, coaching and business skills.

Stephanie Prechowski became COO of Surgeons Choice Medical Center in 2021, marking the latest step in her remarkable 15-year ascent through the health care industry. Prechowski worked her way up from registered nurse and Oakland University lecturer to director of nursing and surgical services at Southfield-based Surgeons Choice. The COO role is her first professional experience not explicitly focused on nursing or surgery, so she decided it was time to bolster her management and leadership skills.

"I needed to have the credibility, as well as the resources and the skill set, to do my job," she says.

That decision led Prechowski to OU's Executive MBA program. Although she considered multiple MBA programs, she says Oakland University’s program made the most sense for her because of its small cohort size and concierge-approach support.

"I really wanted a program that was going to be able to support me as an individual," she says.

One year into the 21-month EMBA program, Prechowski says her experience has delivered on her expectations.

She appreciates the diversity of her cohort, which includes professionals who hail from India, Germany and China, and work in industries ranging from automotive to supply chain to banking. Prechowski has gained valuable professional insights from executives with perspectives very different from her own. She recalls the eye-opening experience of chatting with a fellow cohort member who works in the auto industry and had been very directly affected by the war in Ukraine when a truck carrying his company's parts was bombed.

"Those are things that I would never have to consider," Prechowski says. "It opens your eyes and really emphasizes that we don't know everything."

In addition to valuable professional insights, Prechowski discovered lifelong friendships in her cohort. She says her cohort members all like each other so much that they're planning a social gathering so they can meet each others' families.

"When I go to class, I look forward to it," she says. "Yes, it's difficult. And yes, it's challenging. That was expected. What wasn't to be expected was how much we would enjoy one another's company and how much we're learning from one another, personally and professionally, while we're there."

Prechowski is already applying skills she learned in the EMBA program at work. In her first-semester leadership courses, she completed a 360-evaluation and a portfolio on herself. She keeps both in her office now.

"If I ever feel like I need encouragement or I need to remind myself of how far I've come, I'll go to those resources," she says.

While OU’s EMBA program has strengthened Prechowski's mastery of hard skills like financial management, her most valuable takeaway is learning how to lead and empower staff more effectively. She says her EMBA leadership classes helped her learn how to coach and mentor the directors she oversees, encouraging them to help employees feel "valued as human beings."

"The ways of leaving emotion at the door and not showing vulnerability are really going by the wayside, at least in certain industries," Prechowski says. "That's been a big mental hurdle I've had to overcome. How can I reach people on that level?"

She's already seen directors at Surgeons Choice put her guidance into practice – and heard positive feedback from employees as a result.

"They always say it has to come from the top down," Prechowski says. "I'm putting all this out there, showing how we should treat one another and work together, putting that in action. And I see it not just domino-effect down, but it’s contagious nature throughout all levels of the organization. Values in action."

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