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Art of (and?) Leadership

In the universe of graduate/professional degree programs, the MBA degree offers perhaps the most practical curriculum. Yale SOM offers no shortage of applicable courses. But Yale SOM also provides the ability to take courses, inside and outside the school, that aren’t as directly relevant to one’s career trajectory. Or so one might think.

How can literature make you a better consultant/banker/entrepreneur/marketer?
I just completed a class called “Management, Leadership, and Literature” (call it MLL for short) with Professor Shyam Sunder, whom I got to know well on my International Experience trip last year. In the class, we read works that many of us hadn’t touched for years – Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sophocles’s Antigone, and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, to name a few – in order to further our understanding of the timeless forces that drive ourselves and others, and to inform our strategies when faced with complex organizations and issues that a scientific approach alone may not be able to address. Indeed, the leaders I admire most aren’t simply those who excel solely within their field. Rather, those individuals who can span across fields, in their work and/or on their own time, are the ones that receive my greatest admiration (not that it counts for much at the moment). For example, in a course I completed on “Managing in Times of Rapid Change”, Dick Foster (founder of McKinsey’s healthcare, private equity, and technology practices; Yale Ph.D. in engineering) pulled in elements ranging from the statesman Sir Francis Bacon to the psychologist William James , from the philosopher Voltaire to the physicist Albert Einstein. For our final MLL class, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery. We spent the bulk of our time on our final presentations (analysis of not only the aesthetic but also the sociocultural implications of pieces by Warhol, Cezanne, Kandinsky, Manet, Lichtenstein, Hopper, etc.). But first we spoke with Jock Reynolds, the gallery director, who shared with us the joys and challenges of leading the Western Hemisphere’s oldest university art museum.

Most interesting to me was how his core themes – zoom-in-zoom-out thinking, sources and importance of constant innovation, organizational challenges of control vs. autonomy, etc. – overlapped with the themes of the aforementioned “Managing in Times of Rapid Change” course. Dick Foster the engineering Ph.D. and Jock Reynolds the master of fine arts: two sides of the same coin. This again was reinforced in a talk I just attended by Charles Hill, Diplomat-in-Residence and co-instructor of Yale University’s renowned course on Grand Strategy that many Yale SOM students take. He drew diagrams for us of the universe of disciplines and of career progression vs. expected breadth of knowledge (see bottom of post). His assertion -- self-evident but sometimes forgotten in an increasingly competitive marketplace -- was that while specialization is needed in the world, many of our big problems may only be solved by leaders who can pull up and see the entire picture. All of these wise people figure that one’s leadership is greatly informed by learning and applying many different schools of thought. It is this fundamental principle upon which Yale SOM's Integrated Curriculum is based, and further why being part of such an eminent and purposeful university as Yale is advantageous to developing leadership for business and society.