What makes someone an amazing business leader? Profits? Enthusiastic employees? The long-term sustainability of their company? A game changing vision? We feel that someone like Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet is a leader to emulate, but why? What differentiates them from your average CEO or tech entrepreneur? There is no end of best-selling books that purport to hold the secret to being a “Level 5” leader, but can such a thing truly be learned? More importantly, what are the norms and values that underlay leadership success? How do we judge leaders and what does this judgment convey about what we value? When we say that a CEO’s responsibility is first and foremost to his shareholders, what does that mean about the purpose of business? What is social responsibility? Does a business leader have one set of values at work and another in the rest of her life?

This course seeks to examine the norms and values that undergird models of excellence in business leadership through critical reading of contemporary books on leadership. We will read selections from these works in conversation with classical theories on leadership—from Machiavelli to Churchill—in order to analyze the unstated assumptions behind them. Has excellence in leadership remained the same through the centuries? If not, how have things changed? Pedagogically, the course stands committed to active learning and developing skills through integrating the course material with the student’s world. Thus, we will emphasize weekly critical-thinking assignments over traditional reading. Individual engagement with texts will of course be a part of the course, but the emphasis will be placed on quality of engagement over quantity of pages read. The course will also have a strong written and oral communication component. Clear communication represents clear thinking, and students must develop their ability to make a strong argument and communicate it effectively to those around them.

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Tara M. Dankel