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Lessons in Leadership - New academic director of Larsen Leaders Academy brings renewed focus on experiential learning

Brad AlgeBrad Alge, an associate professor of management at Purdue’s School of Management and the new academic director of the Larsen Leaders Academy, learned one of his most formative lessons on leadership on the football field as a walk-on player at the University of Notre Dame.

In the middle of Alge’s freshman year amid a rare losing season, Notre Dame hired legendary coach Lou Holtz to rebuild the fractured program. “It wasn't a cohesive group. There was a lot of distrust, disrespect for the coaching staff, and just didn’t feel right,” he says. “When Holtz was hired, the change was immediate, from holding each other accountable to building a culture of trust, belief, and commitment. That's when I knew leadership mattered.”

It mattered on the gridiron, too, where Notre Dame reversed course and within three short seasons went 12-0 and won the 1988 national championship. “It was about more than the talent of the players,” Alge says of the team’s transformation. “It was about motivation, engagement, leadership, and trust — all those things we talk about in the Larsen Leaders Academy that are so critically important.”

Alge, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1989 with a BBA, began his career as a consultant with Accenture. “We’d do audits of companies looking at their business processes,” Alge says. “What's working? What's not working? What do we need to change? More often than not, the biggest challenges weren't technical, they were people resisting change and leaders not articulating a clear and compelling vision for why change was needed.”

After leading change efforts at Accenture, Alge returned to the football field for two seasons as an assistant coach at Kent State University, where he earned his MBA in 1993. “It was a chance to follow a dream, and it taught me that being a successful coach not only meant being a good leader, but also a good teacher,” he says. “That’s what brought me to Ohio State to get a PhD.”

Alge joined Purdue’s School of Management in 1999 and teaches courses in organizational behavior and leadership. His research focuses on leadership, organizational control, creative performance, social networking, and virtual/distance work.

In his current role as academic director of the Larsen Leaders Academy, Alge is focused on taking students on a transformational leadership journey that involves coursework, experiential learning, and immersive experiences unique to undergraduate education. Students learn to think critically, communicate, and collaborate as they develop self-awareness through emotional intelligence and search for meaningful purpose.

“Whether leading a team or corporation, developing new innovations, starting a business, or serving others for a good cause, Larsen Leaders Academy prepares students to drive change that makes a difference,” Alge says.

To that end, students have the opportunity to participate in one of many life-changing capstone immersion trips to learn from best-in-class leaders in a variety of settings, including visiting Gettysburg to explore leadership, strategy, and parallel thinking; the Kennedy Space Center to study risk and decision making at NASA; Yosemite National Park to experience leadership vulnerability while braving the wilderness; and the European Theatre during WWII to learn humility, humanity, and resolve.

Students will also participate in corporate consulting projects, often working directly with Purdue alumni and companies that see the value of helping students grow. “They’ll earn course credit for experiential learning, which is a first for the Academy,” Alge says. “They’ll be getting feedback directly from companies that are looking for solutions to real problems. Those types of experiences really add to our students' maturity and put them much further along than peer programs at other universities.”

Ultimately, Alge says, it’s about students investing four years of personal growth and leadership development to put them on an accelerated trajectory for the next 40 years. “We want our students to be able to sit across from an interviewer who's considering them for a job and be able to tell them an amazing story,” he says. “If we can get our students to be in a position to find a purpose with passion, we will have been successful. At Larsen, we are constantly challenging them to find their ‘why’ to lead the way.”