Haas Newsroom

Haas School of Business Adds New Leadership Course to
MBA Core Curriculum

Oct. 26, 2006

Media Contacts:
Ronna Kelly
UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

In a move closely aligned with its "Leading Through Innovation" strategy, the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business is offering a new required course that features a sweeping assessment of each MBA student's leadership skills and a roadmap for strengthening those skills.

The Haas School began offering the new leadership course to first-year full-time MBA students Oct. 23. The centerpiece of the class is a comprehensive, 360-degree assessment of each student's leadership skills, based on nine confidential evaluations completed by former bosses, co-workers, peers, and clients before the class begins.

"We are a school of innovation, and innovation requires immense leadership talent," says Professor Jennifer Chatman, one of the Haas faculty members who developed and is teaching the new course. "The school's commitment to developing successful leaders is dramatically demonstrated by this new core course."

The new course also will be taught in the Evening & Weekend core MBA program beginning in the 2007-08 academic year.

The objective of the class is for each student to develop an understanding of his or her own strengths and opportunities as leaders and to use that knowledge to identify actions that will further advance his or her leadership potential. At the end of the course, students are required to develop a Leadership Self-Analysis Plan, a specific and measurable plan of action to strengthen their leadership skills based on analysis of their feedback and a comparison of themselves to leaders studied during the course.

"In most classes, students are asked to examine other leaders. What's new about this class is that we shift the lens from other leaders onto the students themselves," says Assistant Professor Pino Audia, the other Haas faculty member who developed and is teaching the course. "The goal is to increase self-awareness and create conditions for better self-management; effective leaders manage themselves with skill, making the best possible use of their strengths and minimizing the negative impact of their weak spots."

In each class session, students receive a report that graphically summarizes the difference between a self-assessment and evaluations from other colleagues on a number of different dimensions. This gradual approach to receiving feedback is designed to facilitate more reflection, understanding, and interpretation of the results. The reports cover such characteristics as authoritativeness, the ability to build commitment and consensus, and the type of culture students promote in an organization.

"One of the biggest lessons here comes from the discrepancy between what students intend and what actually comes across – how what a student thinks he or she is doing in an organization is actually perceived differently by the people around them," says Chatman, the Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management at the Haas School.

Working in groups of six, students discuss the reports in each class with the help of Ph.D. and second-year MBA students who have been specially trained to work as coaches for the course. From there, the students will consider their ideal job and determine which skills will be most important for them to hone.

In addition, students are required to complete peer reviews of the other five members of their group, evaluating their ability to provide constructive feedback to each other. To foster a more supportive environment, students also are paired in buddies. Each student is charged with presenting his or her buddy's feedback to the rest of the six-person group for confidential discussion.

Chatman and Audia, both members of the Haas Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations Group, are drawing on their professional experience preparing surveys and 360-degree leadership assessments for executives in the private sector.

Audia's experience with 360-degree assessments goes back to his work with executives while at the London Business School. Audia's research focuses on entrepreneurship, organizational decision making, and organizational change. In one study that he will discuss in the leadership class, Audia found that leaders with more inflated views of themselves tend to pay more attention to positive performance measures and downplay the value of negative signals.

Chatman's expertise in 360-degree assessments comes from teaching in the executive education program at the Haas School, working with numerous companies, and her research on leadership and organizational culture. Chatman studies how leaders create strategically relevant cultures within organizations and how leveraging culture can be a more powerful leadership tool than simply telling people what to do. An article written by Chatman and published in California Management Review, "Leading by Leveraging Culture," is required reading for the leadership course.

The course also features three guest speakers – senior executives from the public and private sector – who will present live cases based on a situation they faced as a leader. Students will be asked how they would respond to the situation, and the speaker will then talk about how he or she acted.

The speakers currently slated to visit the classes are Nathan Brostrom, vice chancellor of administration at the University of California, Berkeley, and formerly managing director and manager of the western region public finance group for JPMorgan; Lisa Earnhardt, president of cardiac surgery at Boston Scientific Corp.; and Shantanu Narayen, president and chief operating officer of Adobe Systems.

Another component of the class is experiential exercises in which students role-play as leaders and receive real-time feedback about their performance and leadership style.