Pioneering Leadership Development | Adaptive Leadership courses at the Harvard Kennedy School

Since 1983, when Ronald Heifetz fielded his first leadership course here, the Harvard Kennedy School has been at the forefront in the field of leadership development. All those years ago, outside of military academies, the scholarly study of leadership was a rarity. But in the years since, Heifetz and his HKS faculty colleagues have spent decades analyzing the personal leadership cases of political, social, and business leaders, and especially those of HKS students themselves. Lessons from these thousands of cases inform and continue to shape the theory of practice and pedagogy of the Adaptive Leadership courses being taught this year at HKS.

MLD-201 Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change is the foundational course introducing students to key concepts and frameworks for understanding leadership. Taught in the fall by Farayi Chipungu and Tim O’Brien, and in spring by Hugh O’Doherty, MLD-201 provides a diagnostic and strategic foundation for leadership practice.  Applying theory to practice, these instructors help students learn, and understand the relationship among key concepts:
What is leadership?  How is “leadership” distinguished from “authority” in a given context, system, or organization?  How can one exercise leadership without authority, whether from inside a system, or from outside? What are the available diagnostic tools for analyzing the complexity of change in social systems, and formulating strategies of action?

Students in MLD-201 employ multiple frameworks for analyzing the challenges leaders face. Principally, how can one understand the distinctions between straightforward “technical” challenges and the array of “adaptive” challenges that most often lead to the seemingly inevitable failures of leadership.

“Adaptive work is needed when both the challenge itself and its potential avenues for progress are unclear, if new ideas and new learning are required, and if hearts and minds must shift for progress to occur.”1

Given ever-present, adaptive challenges and concomitant risks of failure, students aspiring to lead must learn reflective practices to become thoughtful and resilient. Using an action-based pedagogy, MLD-201 instructors and course coaches enable students to engage and experience the exercise of leadership. Then, using extensive, scaffolded feedback and reflective activities, students learn and improve their personal leadership practice. Thus, students come to understand what is “the work” of leadership.

Two courses taught by Heifetz build upon these foundational frameworks and practices.

In his January-term, intensive course MLD-202 Leadership from the Inside Out: The Capacity to Lead and Stay Alive–Self, Identity, and Freedom, Heifetz asks students to make a pivot from the contextual, external dimensions of leadership to focus on personal, internal dimensions of leadership.  As complicated as the external context may be, Heifetz has come to understand that of equal importance is a leader’s own self-understanding. “We want to zoom in on YOU as a complex system,” he states. Young and developing leaders must be able to read and comprehend their own multiple identities – e.g., family, political, racial, national, sexual, etc. – and the activation and interplay of these at any given leadership moment.

Ronald Heifetz standing and smiling
Ronald Heifetz, King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership, at Harvard Kennedy School.
(Photo by Tom Fitzsimmons)

Heifetz has learned that sometimes identity-based frames of reference cloud and confuse leaders, leading them to poorly or incorrectly diagnose situations, putting them into danger and contributing to their own neutralization.  In the course, students undertake a deep exploration of their own internal habits, guided by analytical structures, frameworks, and conceptual methods of analysis, with the goal being to strengthen their sense of self and to become less reactive when identifications are activated to their detriment.  Understanding what students bring into a given leadership situation, and developing a practice to remain flexible, keep curious, open to information and change, but still maintain integrity is the goal of MLD-202. Referencing the U.S. Civil Rights activist and longtime U.S. Congressman John Lewis, Heifetz says, “We want you to become a smart ‘troublemaker’!”

As in MLD-202, Heifetz’s fall course MLD-204 Leadership from the Inside Out: Self, Identity, and Freedom – With a Focus on Anti-Black Racism and Sexism asks students to look inside themselves and to develop a practice of analysis and reflection, but with a special application to the distinctive challenges  – both internal and external – that leaders might face in combating anti-Black racism and sexism. Focusing on these two discrete, but admittedly huge, challenges to the practice of leadership, students can draw lessons about fighting other forms of enculturated injustice, as well as any other challenge for which they are willing to engage in the dangers of leadership.

“We want you to become a smart ‘troublemaker’!”

The course has four strands that weave through the semester:

In the first strand, through political psychology, Heifetz leads an exploration of the nature and sources of identity and analyzes identity as both a profound resource and endangering constraint on the practice of leadership.

The second strand consists of intensive casework. Students analyze leadership cases from their experience in two directions: externally on the ecosystems of anti-Black racism and sexism they have known; and internally on their own identities.

In the third strand, students investigate their vulnerability, as a product of their own unique identities and experiences, to key dangers of leadership and professional life: the temptations of significance, belonging, and validation; authority, power, influence, and control; and intimacy and sexual gratification. Students will strengthen their capacity to assess dangerous situations that can play to their weaknesses and then learn to respond to these with self-awareness and discipline.

In the fourth strand, students explore ongoing ways to generate the freedom of mind and heart to engage fully in the diagnostic and action work of leadership and stay alive in their lives and in the spirit of their work.

As is true of all the adaptive leadership courses described here, MLD-204 draws on multiple disciplines and areas of study: history, economics, sociology, philosophy, psychology, studies of gender and race, religion, literature, as well as organizational and political leadership.

Special note on MLD-202 and MLD-204:  These courses are designed to generate a personally transformative education. Interested students should note that these courses will be an intensely emotional experience. They explore students’ own cases of failure and success as well as their experiences of trauma and its impact on identity, especially MLD-204. Students can choose how deeply they explore these experiences, and no one will be pushed to share more than they wish. Nevertheless, students should not take these classes if they do not feel prepared at this time to undertake a potentially destabilizing exploration.

The personal frameworks in MLD-202 and 204 complement the systems framework developed in MLD-201 Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change, so it is strongly recommended that students take MLD-201 first, or, at a minimum, concurrently with 202 or 204.

Any of the above mentioned courses will nicely complement other courses in the range of leadership focused courses taught in the MLD Area. For questions about these courses, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.

1. Source: The Adaptive Leadership Network.

Game planning for Success at Scale | MLD-820M: Strategies for Social Impact with Matthew Lee

Even the most visionary, well-connected, and well-funded social enterprises fail to achieve their aims. A common reason for this failure—and a critical factor for success—is organizational strategy, the game plan developed by an organization and its leaders for achieving impact.

New Associate Professor of Public Policy and Management, Matthew Lee, brings to the Harvard Kennedy School his expert interest in strategic issues relevant to hybrid organizations that simultaneously pursue multiple objectives, including organization design, external evaluation, and innovation. Having studied social enterprises, impact investing, nonprofit organizations and corporate social responsibility, Lee’s teaching (and ongoing research) focuses on the social impact strategies of private, public sector, and hybrid organizations.

In his Fall Module 1 course, MLD-820M: Strategies for Social Impact, Lee and his students will investigate multiple organizations facing strategic challenges. In so doing, students will be introduced to the foundational perspectives in academic research on organizational strategy, as well as practice-oriented strategy tools and frameworks developed specifically for social impact-driven organizations.

A central theme of the course is that analysis must lead to action.

In each case and situation, there is no “right” answer, merely well-reasoned explanations for why these organizations are successful (or not), and what might work best for them going forward. The deeper goal of the course is to understand how each of these explanations work in general and to teach students how they can apply this understanding to build more competitive, more successful organizations, even in new and unfamiliar real-world situations. This ability to do so, repeatedly and with confidence, is the skill Lee says is colloquially referred to as “strategy.”  Strategy has some formal foundations with recognizable links to academic fields such as microeconomics and sociology. But MLD-820M will not resemble a finance or accounting class where each new piece builds on the last in a tidy way. Instead, student learning will include both cognitive knowledge (the content in the readings and the slides) and procedural knowledge – the practical ability to take a real-world business situation and apply a variety of tools or “lenses” to make sense of it.

Portrait of Matthew Lee smiling
HKS Associate Professor of Public Policy and Management. Matthew Lee

This course is for those interested in leading or advising organizations focused on social and environmental impact. This course will be participation-based and will include case discussions, in-class exercises, and guest speakers. Cases considered focus on non-profit organizations, social enterprises, for-profit impact-first companies such as benefit corporations, and, also, public-sector organizations.

Matthew Lee previously taught strategy at New York University and at INSEAD, based in Singapore, and has been recognized by Poets & Quants as part of their “40 under 40” list of best professors. Matthew completed his doctoral studies at Harvard Business School. His scholarly work is available on his personal website. Before his academic career, he was a consultant with the Bridgespan Group, a management consultancy serving social sector organizations. He is a graduate of Penn State University and a past Fulbright scholar.

MLD-820M is a useful complement to other MLD course offerings in the areas of Strategic Management, Leadership, Urban and Civic Innovation , Social Enterprise. If you have any questions about this course, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.

MLD-102: Getting Things Done: Management in a Development Context with Matthew Andrews

MLD-102: Getting Things Done: Management in a Development Context taught by Matthew Andrews, Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development, is a core, required course for the HKS MPA/ID program. It is also open for enrollment by non-MPA/ID students; permission of the instructor is not required. With a focus on developing country contexts, this course introduces students to critical concepts in organization theory, public management, and the practice of development to enable them to understand the individual, structural, and systemic underpinnings of good management and governance. The development context requires a focus on service delivery from both government and civil society (non-profits and aid agencies in cooperation with one another, and with the local government partner).  Service delivery includes a wide variety of activities from education to regulatory enforcement. A critical driver of success is good management and governance, especially in the face of major resource constraints and in complex settings. Through theoretical readings, case study discussions, and simulations, students will apply theoretical concepts to real-world situations and, through simulations, experience the difficulty of managing. Building on analytical work from other courses, students will focus on such critical issues as corruption, participatory development, scaling up, social service delivery, and emergency response.

Learn more about Matt and his approach to management in a development context:

MLD-102 will be offered in two sections at Harvard Kennedy School in Fall of 2022. If you have any questions about this course, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.

Demystifying Power. Enabling Empowerment. | MLD-340 Power and Influence for Positive Impact with Julie Battilana

Having just been awarded the Academy of Management’s George R. Terry Book Award* for her book Power, for All, Julie Battilana returns to the Harvard classroom this fall to teach MLD-340 Power and Influence for Positive Impact.

In Power, for All, Battilana and her co-author Tiziana Casciaro offer a new vision of power – what they define as the ability to influence someone else’s behavior – as deriving from having access to valued resources. Understanding what those resources are, people can take action to plan for, create, and sustain organizational and systems change. Drawing upon lessons derived from their rich research, and conveying lessons through wide-ranging case narratives, Battilana and Casciaro reveal the insights into power and influence that come from understanding (1) the two basic needs all human beings share—safety and self-esteem—and (2) the resources people seek to satisfy those needs: obvious ones, like money and status, but also less obvious and less tangible resources, like autonomy, achievement, affiliation, and morality. In sum Power, for All demystifies the essential mechanisms for acquiring and using power, showing that it is available to ALL people, not just those with personality, money, or, indeed, those willing to use intimidation, threats, or worse.

Split picture: At left: Tiziana Cascario and Julie Battilana seated together at a table. At right: book cover of their book, Power, for All.Pictured
Tiziana Casciaro and Julie Battilana with their award-winning book, Power, for All.

Building on these empowering ideas…,

…and designed for individuals at any stage of their career, Battilana’s fall course MLD-340 Power and Influence for Positive Impact will debunk the fallacies that many have about power and explore the fundamentals of power in interpersonal relationships, in organizations, and in society. In doing so, it will lift the veil on power, revealing to students what it really is, and how it works, ultimately unleashing their potential to build and use power to effect change at home, at work, and in society.

MLD-340 is ideal for students who want to make things happen, despite the obstacles that might stand in the way. Students will walk away prepared to exercise power positively to challenge the status quo in order to address the pressing social and environmental problems of our time. Students will learn conceptual models, tactical approaches, and assessment tools to develop their personal influence style and understand the political dynamics surrounding them. The subject matter in the course also specifically encourages students to use power responsibly, resist its corruptive perils, and challenges students to develop their own sense of what constitutes the ethical exercise of power and influence in their lives.  Partnering with Battilana will be a stellar array of in-class guests, each an eminent and effective changemaker in their field. Expected to join the class are:

MLD-340 is jointly listed at the Harvard Business School as HBS MBA2057 and will convene class meetings both at HBS and the Harvard Kennedy School campuses on Tuesday evenings from 4:45PM – 6:45PM. The unique, dual-classroom meeting framework intends to mirror the necessary collaboration across sectors that organizations and industries must adopt in order to address the multidimensional crises we face today and successfully effect change.  The course is a useful complement to other MLD course offerings in the areas of LeadershipNegotiationOrganizing Civic, Political, and Social Action, and even Social Enterprise. If you have any questions about this course, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.

*The Academy of Management’s George R. Terry Book Award is granted annually to the book judged to have made the most outstanding contribution to the global advancement of management knowledge during the last two years. Books that contribute to the advancement of management theory, conceptualization, research, or practice are eligible for this prestigious award. Battilana and Casciaro were presented the award at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management on August 7, 2022.

Sohaila Noori, 29, owner of a sewing workshop, poses at her workshop in Kabul, Afghanistan January 15, 2022.

Engaging Global Policymakers Working to Support Women in Geographies of Conflict | MLD-236 – Continuing Conflict: Old Challenges and New Debates with Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Rangita de Silva de Alwis speaking into a microphoneThis fall HKS hosts Rangita de Silva de Alwis to teach a special new course, MLD-236 Continuing Conflict: Old Challenges and New Debates.  Rangita, a full-time faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Law School with an S.J.D. from Harvard Law School, is a globally recognized international women’s rights expert with over 25 years of experience advocating for equal representation of women across the globe. On June 23, 2022 Rangita was elected to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) for the term 2023-2026.  The CEDAW Committee—consisting of 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world—is the body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Rangita’s new HKS course aims to meld her policymaking and advocacy role with learning in the classroom. MLD-236 will focus on two theaters of continuing conflict: Afghanistan and the Sahel region in Africa, the world’s most conflict heavy region. Collaborating with UN Security Council non-permanent members, this class will examine these recent conflicts, its impact on women, and the role of women as peace builders. From the denial of women’s and girl’s education in the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan to Africa’s Sahel region’s climate collapse which has impacted a gathering crisis in food security, access to water, migration, and the feminization of poverty, the class will analyze some of the root causes of recent conflict and provide new policy imperatives through a gender perspective. The confluence of the 3 Cs, conflict, climate change and COVID will continue to have a disproportionate impact on the lives and livelihoods of women.

This course will function as a lab to incubate new ideas and provide an opportunity for students to participate directly with important global changes on policy making. Through case studies in the two regions, students will learn an array of transformative policymaking tools to address the root causes of conflict and explore new approaches to peace building. Students will also engage with recent UN Security Council resolutions and directly connect with an amazing array of current global policymakers working in these geographies of conflict.

Policy makers expected to be guest speakers (virtually) in MLD-236 include:

From Africa’s Sahel Region:

    • E. Michel Biang, Gabon’s Ambassador to the UN (Security Council)
    • E. Cheikh Niang, Senegal’s Ambassador to the UN
    • E. Lang Yabon, The Gambia’s Ambassador to the UN
    • E. Ammo Baroud, Chad’s Ambassador to the UN
    • E. Fanday Turay, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the UN
    • E. Konfourou, Mali’s Ambassador to the UN
    • Under Secretary General Zainab Bangura, Head of UN Africa
    • David Moininia Senge, Sierra Leone Minister of Education and Innovation; Fellow MIT Media Lab

From Afghanistan:

    • Simar Samar, first woman Vice President of Afghanistan; Fellow at HKS’s Carr Center for Human Rights
    • Shukriya Barakzai, founding Chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights, Civil Society, and Women’s Rights and former Ambassador to Norway
    • Naheed Fareed, youngest woman parliamentarian and most recent Chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights, Civil Society, and Women’s Rights
    • Maria Basheer, first woman prosecutor in Afghanistan
    • Fawzia Koofi, member of Afghan delegation to Doha peace talks
Niger_Malian-refugee-sisters
Niger_Malian refugee sisters. Credit: Louise-Donovan

MLD Area chair, Hannah Riley Bowles, who also serves as Co-Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at HKS, commended Rangita’s HKS appointment, stating: “We are honored and delighted that HKS will continue to benefit from Rangita’s intellectual energy and role model. In addition to her scholarship on gender in international law, Rangita brings direct experience working with governments and international institutions to bring a gender lens to peace and security.”

Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and former Dean of Harvard Law School, recently said of Rangita, “I know of no one with more expertise, tenacity, and devotion when it comes to advancing women’s rights . . . Rangita would be a stellar contributor to the efforts to protect against gender-based violence and to make human rights meaningful regardless of an individual’s gender.”

MLD-236 with Rangita de Silva de Alwis be offered at Harvard Kennedy School in the fall semester. This course makes an excellent complement to the following other AY23 HKS courses:

If you have any questions about this course, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.

About feature photo above: Sohaila Noori, 29, owner of a sewing workshop, poses at her workshop in Kabul, Afghanistan January 15, 2022.
Source: REUTERS/Ali Khara  (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-women-losing-jobs-fast-economy-shrinks-rights-curtailed-2022-01-20/ )

Training for a New Generation of Leaders: MLD-322 The Art and Adventures of Public Leadership with David Gergen

Having spent an extraordinary lifetime advising and observing top leaders in politics, diplomacy, the military, business, higher education, and philanthropy, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership David Gergen is uniquely positioned to guide Harvard students aspiring to the highest levels of leadership.

Watch: David Gergen on what is necessary for leadership. CBS Sunday Morning profile video. May 2022 (Click to view)

In his course MLD-322 The Art and Adventures of Public Leadership, Gergen aims to help prepare rising members of a new generation for lives of service and public leadership. In an intimate seminar setting – smaller than past enrollments of this course – Gergen and students will explore together some of the key questions that confront those who seek to make a difference in an increasingly turbulent world.

Questions explored range from the personal to the political.  For instance, as you leave the Kennedy School and build a career, what are the personal qualities, values, and skills that one needs have or develop to lead successfully? When and how can one successfully jump into the public arena and still manage a balanced life at home? When facing a serious setback – a “crucible moment,” as Gergen calls them — how do you, as a young leader, find the resilience to recover and push yourself forward?  When is it the right time for you to enter the public arena? How do you find your voice and mobilize others? How do you build and nurture a strong team? How do you build and sustain a social movement?

For answers, Gergen draws on life journeys of leaders from different points in history, seeking out parallels and differences that can help students in their own leadership development. The leaders studied reflect the diversity of those who have struggled to create a more just and open world. The coursework includes biographical readings, leadership literature, films, classroom discussions, and also guest appearances by a diverse set of leaders who have wisdom to impart.

Cover of "Hearts Touched with Fire" a book by David GergenThis past Spring Gergen published an inspiring playbook for emerging change-makers called Hearts Touched with Fire. In the book Gergen has collected many of the stories and lessons learned from his years closely studying leaders, and he issues a call to the younger generations around the world to step up and lead through the array of challenges we are facing today. Both Gergen’s new book, and his previously published classic Eyewitness to Power are excellent companion readings to MLD-322 and other leadership development courses at Harvard Kennedy School like the courses in adaptive leadership, moral leadership, public narrative, and, also, American presidential leadership.

MLD-322 will be offered at Harvard Kennedy School in the fall semester. If you have any questions about this course, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.