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MIT Sloan course combines art and leadership to translate capabilities into practice


Practicum includes sessions with Cirque du Soleil, jazz group, and art tour.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 2, 2020 – A new class at the MIT Sloan School of Management offers students a unique, hands-on way to learn about leadership. In Leadership in Practice: Making and Learning, MIT Sloan students integrate the MIT Leadership Capabilities model with arts processes and experiential sessions to translate leadership capabilities into practice. Bringing art, jazz, and Cirque du Soleil performers to class, students learn to experiment with different ways of creating, problem-solving, and adapting to change.

“Changeability is the core capability for individuals and organizations in a world with constant moving targets. By transforming the creative process into cultural practices, we are enabling students to develop creative, agile, and adaptive responses to change,” says artist and MIT Sloan Lecturer, who cotaught the class with MIT Sloan Prof..

"Leadership is art. It is a mix of knowledge and skills, and more importantly of values and character. The course was a great setting to address these issues and helped me appreciate the potential of creative leadership,” says MIT Sloan Fellows MBA student Vigen Sargsyan, former minister of defense of Armenia, who took the course.

The class is structured around each of the four MIT Leadership Capabilities: Visioning (making commitments), Relating (listening and connecting), Sensemaking (framing and learning), and Inventing (collaborating and creating).

“Leadership capabilities can be best learned when frameworks are coupled with facilitated environments for immediate experimentation, interpretation, application, and feedback. Through the arts, we’re helping students transition the capabilities from nouns to verbs and creating generative conditions for self-directed learning and creative interpersonal risk taking,” says Shapira.

He points to the jazz session as an example of how students learn about leadership in a changing environment. “Jazz becomes a lab for testing how we organize, communicate, and connect with each other while engaging in change.”

Shapira further explains that the Cirque du Soleil performers give students practical backstage insights about inventing and that an art tour on the MIT campus supports a lesson on sensemaking.

“The course is a unique learning opportunity, as students participate in exercises that allow for active engagement with ideas and personal practices and reflection on their habitual ways of thinking and acting. By applying core practices from the arts and translating them into the organizational context, we can transform the way students lead in the future,” says Shapira.

The half-semester class ran last fall. The curriculum of the class will be offered to MIT students throughout the year during Sloan Innovation Period weeks.

About the MIT Sloan School of Management

The MIT Sloan School of Management is where smart, independent leaders come together to solve problems, create new organizations, and improve the world. Learn more at