Boston as Leadership Learning Lab | MLD-618 Leadership, Social Change, and its Challenges with Chris Winship and Ira Jackson

Throughout history, Boston and Massachusetts have been progressive leaders in social change: the first public school, the Revolutionary War, the first public library, the Abolitionist Movement to eliminate slavery, Women’s Suffrage, Universal Health Care (almost), and Marriage Equality, to name of a few.

Yet, Boston has had, and continues to have, serious challenges. Today its economy is booming; some talk about this being Boston’s “Golden Age.” That said, Boston has one of the highest levels of income inequality of any city in the U.S. Its history of difficult race, ethnic, and class relations issues continue to this day.

In their fall course, MLD-618: Leadership, Social Change, and its Challenges: Focus on Race, Class, and Social Justice, Christopher Winship and Ira Jackson of Harvard’s Sociology Department explore a range of challenging issues facing Boston through a leadership lens. Examining cases like Boston’s school busing crisis, the Catholic church child sex abuse scandal, the Boston Harbor cleanup and Seaport development, and Boston policing, this course focuses on the analytic aspects of leadership: the careful assessment of a situation and the potential for individuals or groups to create change.

Winship and Jackson posit that social change, for better or worse, often occurs, at least in part, because of individual or group leadership. But what makes for effective, or ineffective leadership? Is it the quality or skills of an individual? Do ethics matter? A good match between what is needed and who is in leadership? Or is it making the right strategic choices based on a thorough understanding of situation?

Answering these questions requires someone to be a good social scientist – to have a sophisticated understanding of the manifest and latent dynamics of a situation and the potential leaders within it. Importantly, different situations require different types of leadership and individuals differ in their leadership skills and resources.

Through MLD-618 students have fantastic opportunity to deeply examine local issues and actually interact with the key individuals who are, or were, the protagonists in the cases being studied.

Students can ask these special class guests how they understood the situation(s) they were in, why they made the decisions that they did, and if now, in retrospect, they would have done anything differently. A few examples of guests in the course are:

The core learning goal of this course is to give students the tools to rigorously analyze and evaluate situations where leadership is an issue and social change is the goal. You will learn how to do this by using a specific framework consisting of a series of steps:  analyzing a situation, determining what options are available, and then evaluating each option in term of its consequences and its ethics. In addition, many cases in the course are interrelated. What is possible to do in any situation will often be constrained by what happened in previous situation(s). It is important that the cases we examine be understood in context, not as isolated situations. The local focus on Boston as a community allows students to do this. The course also provides a unique opportunity for students to learn about Boston and its environs. Through three different trips to explore Boston: one as a class (Museum of African American History), and two on your own (The Black Heritage Trail and the Ella J. Baker House) give students concrete experience of the city in which they are studying, and to see the city as a learning laboratory.

MLD-618 is also listed at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as Sociology 1119. It will be taught in Fall 2022 on Mondays 3:00-5:45 in William James Hall.  The course makes a good complement to other MLD courses in Leadership, Strategic ManagementUrban and Civic Innovation, and Organizing Civic, Political, and Social Action. For questions about these courses, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator

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.

MLD-113M: Strategy and Decision with Peter Zimmerman

How can effective leaders learn from experience and decisions in the past to make more effective decisions that advance one’s strategic purpose?

Book Cover: Strategy: A History, by Lawrence Freedman, Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013

Strategy is expressed in the decisions we make every day. There are no choices or actions that are truly neutral with respect to one’s strategic purpose.  Yet few decisions come labelled as “strategic”; instead policy makers, analysts and managers face an unending stream of judgments and choices that arrive in varied frames from every imaginable direction.

No decision stands alone. Today’s decisions are linked undeniably to decisions in the past reflected in the experience of individuals, groups, teams and organizations, even nations.  Experience both enables and limits our perceptions, beliefs, values, predispositions and capabilities. We both learn from the past (it’s all we’ve got) yet our learning can be limited by the deceptive clarity and presumed certainty associated with explanations of past events.

MLD-113M Strategy and Decision with Peter Zimmerman will help students develop more robust explanations of past decisions, their strategic impact and will help students make better predictions of the effects of future decisions.  Taking as the course text cases and stories involving others, from different times and places, and even students’ own stories and experience, students will work on three parallel tracks. First, students have the chance to analyze and explain decisions large & small while experimenting in a tentative qualitative way with how things might come out differently. Next, they explore the science of behavior & decision-making (i.e., what are the sources of influence on decision and what’s going on in the black box?). Finally, they develop a framework to help improve our explanations & predictions and to integrate individual choices into a pattern of strategic decisions.

This course is offered in the spring module 2 semester. If you have any questions about this course, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.

MLD-352: The Leadership System: Leaders, Followers, Contexts with Barbara Kellerman

History attests that leadership has never been just about single individuals perched at the top of the greasy pole. It has always been more complex a process than the leader-centric leadership literature would seem to suggest,” says Barbara Kellerman, the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership. In her Fall 2020 course MLD-352: The Leadership System: Leaders, Followers, Contexts, Kellerman and her students explore that notion by examining the interconnected dynamics that followers and context play in the story and success (or failure) of a leader.  Through her many years of reading and writing on leadership Kellerman has developed a novel framework to help students analyze situations in which leaders (and followers) find themselves, and to understand what roles they can, should, and (perhaps) should not play. “This is not in any conventional sense a ‘how to’ course. Rather it is an intellectual journey into the heart of leadership,” explains Kellerman. Portrait photo of Barbara Kellerman

Drawing on a breadth of thought from Confucius and Machiavelli to James MacGregor Burns, and examples from Nazi Germany to modern leaders like Angela Merkel and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, this course covers concepts of the leadership “industry,” our ideas about authority, the dynamics of contextual change, and varieties of leadership, good and bad. Harvard students can view a video course preview with Kellerman.

Learn more about Barbara’s approach:

View a (~10min) video with Barbara describing her 2012 book The End of Leadership and summarizing her view of the Leadership System and the Leadership Industry.

Read her regular blog on current events and issues of leadership in the news, or explore her latest books Leaders who Lust (Cambridge Univ. Press)  Professionalizing Leadership (Oxford Univ. Press).

Listen to a Leadership Perspectives Webinar from the International Leadership Association about about how and why leadership and followership have changed over time, especially in the last forty years. She also raises questions about leadership as both a scholarly pursuit and a set of practical skills including: Does the industry do what it claims to do—grow leaders? Are leaders as all-important as we think they are? What about followers? Isn’t teaching good followership as important now as teaching good leadership?

MLD-352 will be offered at the Harvard Kennedy School in Fall of 2020.  Kellerman’s other course MLD-349M: Bad Leadership: Leaders, Followers, Contexts will be offered in Spring of 2021, respectively. For questions about these courses, or any other leadership courses in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.