Student Profile: Sean Clevenger, Master’s in Leadership

Student Profile: Sean Clevenger, Master’s in Leadership

Leadership student ClevengerHello, my name is Sean Clevenger and I have just completed my last class and all the requirements for my Masters of Arts in Leadership (MAL) from CityU!

This long academic journey for me started in 2011, but it was well worth the effort. I chose CityU after a less then satisfying experience with another higher learning institution. Like most adult learners, I needed to balance my career, family, and life with my quest to earn a master’s degree. During my time as a student in the program, I found that the CityU faculty was excellent and was comprised of ‘real world’ leaders who embrace supportive, understanding, and encouraging instructional methodologies that created the best possible learning and growing experience.

Why I Chose to Pursue a MAL Degree

My interest in leadership was inspired by my long career as a leader in the military and my desire to understand the models, concepts, techniques, theories, and philosophy behind leadership. Further, I was driven by the aspiration to apply these skills outside the military structure in either a corporate or academia environment. While enrolled, I approached each course with an open mind and tried to apply learned concepts to my daily interactions with others. This led to more than a modicum of self-discovery and allowed me to re-assess my own leadership growth. I fully expect to continue growing and improving as both a leader and a follower.

Thesis Project Formalization

I retired from the US Navy in 2009 after 26 plus years of service (Editor’s note: Thank you for your dedicated service!). I had numerous leadership positions over the course of my military career and held many positions of great responsibility. During my transition from the Navy and entering civilian life, my quest was to assume a leadership role in a large Seattle area business. I targeted Starbucks, Amazon, and Microsoft, just to name a few. I felt that I would be a welcome addition to any organization. What I found was a lack of familiarity with what a military officer could bring to the organization and how my leadership qualities, perfected over 26 years, could be utilized outside the military.

My initial thought to my thesis project was to research how senior military officers, specifically those who had been in command, are prepared to transition from the regimented structure of military life to civilian life to become a contributing member of a civilian organization. Based on my belief that military men and women were truly prepared to venture out into non-defense related infrastructures and compete at the same level as their civilian counterparts.

However, what I found was a negative bias fostered by unfamiliarity with military leadership development and practices. In the interest of full disclosure, many businesses make a concerted and genuine effort to employ veterans and provide excellent opportunities for growth. However, the majority of the veterans that are hired are not career military nor do they have senior command credentials. Consequently, my findings on this subject showed that there was a bias toward senior military executives joining the equivalent ranks outside the military.

Following this realization, my focus changed as the thesis process matured. In my research, I captured and highlighted this bias toward senior military executives and sought a complete understanding of leadership qualities.  Using this research, I compared and contrasted the differences and similarities between civilian and military leadership development and training. Through my research, I emphasized the parallels and provided a persuasive argument for considering senior military officers alongside executives in the talent hiring pools.

Looking Ahead

Now that I have completed my degree, I fulfilled a goal, but, I also learned that studying leadership is not a destination but is more of an evolution. As I evolve, the basic premise of guiding, inspiring, and motivating will remain the same. However, I understand that leaders must self assess at every opportunity to hone skills and reduce the potential of reading their own press (good or bad). Upon reflection, the real work remains in front of me. I will take what I have learned from the MAL program and apply it to future endeavors and leadership prospects. I feel that I am both excited and prepared for future leading and learning opportunities.


Interested in CityU’s Master’s in Leadership? To learn more, visit our websitechat with an adviser or email us at

Published January 6, 2015



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