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Expanding MIT Leadership

Leadership combines the confidence to confront big challenges with the humility to know you can’t solve them alone. This is the driving concept behind the MIT Leadership Center—because the future demands it. MIT’s brand of leadership is less interested in the various definitions of the term leadership and more interested in enabling diverse individuals to collaborate in solving the world’s toughest problems. Rigor, innovation, and getting things done matter more than the appearance of success.

Over the past four years, this innovative approach to leadership development has been refined and solidified under the direction of Nelson P. Repenning, PhD ’96 (Associate Dean of Leadership and Special Projects; School of Management Distinguished Professor of System Dynamics and Organization Studies; and Faculty Director, MIT Leadership Center). The MIT Leadership Center has expanded its curricular offerings and advanced its distinctive leadership framework, combining traditional classroom teaching with hands-on Action Learning and one-on-one coaching.

The MIT Leadership Center believes that leadership is a practice that anyone can learn, and offers a developmental sequence of courses, programs, and coaching for MIT Sloan’s MBA students, Executive MBA students, and Sloan Fellows. From orientation and guest speakers to clubs and activities, all students are exposed to MIT’s brand of leadership.

Lead yourself. Lead with others. Change the world. This is the motto of the MIT Leadership Center and describes the model behind its signature course series: ID Lab, Teams Lab, and Organizations Lab. Students who complete these classes learn to maximize leadership performance on three levels—individual, team, and organizational— with the end goal of leading for impact.

ID Lab: Individual Development and Interpersonal Dynamics (15.336) is taken during a student’s first year in the MIT Sloan MBA program. In the course, students examine the role that compassion and empathy for self and others plays in being an effective leader in a complex world. They pursue personal transformation by engaging with themselves and others to identify patterns and learn how to disengage from habits that do not yield desired outcomes.

“ID Lab was where I found the opportunity to put in the work; to understand more deeply how I wish to live and lead,” says Steven DeSandis, MBA ’21. “The class and faculty provided structure, intentionality, time, and space to better understand myself. The value of ID Lab was developing a deeper understanding of my values as a leader, and those of others.”

Teams Lab: Leading Effective Teams (15.337) moves the focus from individual development to team effectiveness. Through a mix of traditional lectures and hands-on practice, students start by developing the ability to seek and value diverse perspectives. Later, the focus turns to the skills necessary for leveraging conflicting opinions and ideas for innovation.

Organizations Lab (15.335), co-taught by Bridget Scott Akinc, EMBA ’13 (Senior Lecturer), and Repenning, confronts the challenge of leading at scale. How do you guide an organization and its surrounding ecosystem when you can’t be in every meeting and don’t have a personal relationship with every member of the organization? Building on the Dynamic Work Design framework developed at MIT Sloan, students learn to influence the direction of an organization by changing its structure. Students cultivate these design skills by working with a local nonprofit on a semester-long project focused on improving one or more core work processes.

“Our culminating class in the leadership course sequence equips emerging leaders with the skills necessary to make a positive impact in the world through the important organizations and initiatives they lead,” says Akinc. “As organizations grapple with their response to challenges ranging from a changing global climate to structural racism, this class provides students an opportunity to consider how leaders serve all of their stakeholders, including customers, employees, and the community.”

Executive coaching is also a core component of the MIT Leadership Center’s integrated model. All MBA students who participate in the ID Lab and Teams Lab courses will work with a professional executive coach who is dedicated to helping them understand their journey, chart a course for the leader they want to become, and learn the skills and self-regulation to get there.

While executive coaching has historically been a part of the Sloan Fellows MBA and the Executive MBA programs, over the past four years the MIT Leadership Center has been working to more directly integrate individual and team coaching into the curricula.

This past fall, Nicki Roth joined the team as Executive Coaching Lead. Roth brings decades of experience in leadership development, management consulting, organization and team dynamics, and human resources to the role. “I’m so impressed with the foundational work the MIT Leadership Center has done over the years. Executive coaching is an integral part of the students’ learning and is the place where they are able to assimilate the coursework into their own leadership approach. I look forward to working with the whole team to make the coaching an even richer experience.”

Recent history has taught us that conventional approaches to leadership are no longer adequate in addressing the challenges that organizations face today. If leaders want to solve the world’s most urgent problems, such as systemic inequality and environmental sustainability, they need to understand how to lead themselves, lead teams, and lead organizations. The MIT Leadership Center combines MIT’s world-renowned analytical capacities with science-based insights on active leadership. It’s an unbeatable combination for preparing the next generation of leaders to take the helm.