August 4, 2008
Dear Yale SOM Graduates:
July 1 marked my third anniversary as dean, and all anniversaries seem to prompt reflection. It seems like only a short time ago that I was asking the students to help me find where a particular classroom was located or to give me their opinions on which food cart provided the best deal for lunch.
I think it is safe to say that by any reckoning, it has been an amazing three years, and I am tremendously proud to have been able to represent this institution, where all of our constituencies — faculty, staff, students, and alumni, as well as our growing cohort of recruiters and corporate supporters — have been working hard to define who we are and what we stand for as an institution, while at the same time defining a new standard for management education.
While we have made tremendous strides in defining what SOM stands for, from time to time in my travels I still encounter a few people whose conception of the Yale School of Management is a little off kilter. "You’re a finance school, right?" they say, or "You’re that nonprofit school." Sometimes I hear, "Aren’t you a public policy school?" The numbers of such people are shrinking, but they are still there.
Whenever I meet those who don’t know or understand the school, I am quick to clarify that we are not a finance school; we are not a nonprofit school; we’re not a public policy school.
Instead of focusing on what Yale SOM is not, however, I try to focus on what we are: at the end of the day, we are a leadership school.
The ranks of our alumni are filled with leaders in finance, leaders in nonprofit organizations, leaders in public policy and public and military service. Not to mention leaders in entrepreneurial pursuits, consumer product companies, consulting firms, high-tech, media (old and new), real estate, energy, healthcare. The list goes on. Yale School of Management graduates are leaders in virtually every field of endeavor, and when we look to admit students into our MBA program, we are looking for those who will be leaders in the future.
More importantly, as a community, we are not agnostic about the model of leadership to which we aspire. We embrace a very distinct model of leadership, one that reflects Yale University’s historic emphasis on positive societal impact; one that really begins with the Yale SOM mission of educating leaders for business and society.
When I speak to those who don’t know the school — and even when I am talking to those who know the school well — the business/society leadership focus of the mission and the multisectoral tradition of the school provoke a profound reaction, both cognitive and emotional.
For most, the Yale School of Management leadership model seems especially relevant today, when the most significant managerial challenges require leadership that is not constrained by a single function or industry or sector. Problems in the world financial markets, globalization, climate change, healthcare, poverty, education, corporate governance, product safety — all of these critical concerns in the world economy require a broader perspective and a deeper sensitivity to the ways in which managerial leadership can be brought to bear not only to create and sustain wealth, but also to address and alleviate some of the most vexing societal problems.
Business and social considerations are no longer separate issues (if they ever were to begin with). There are few local problems that do not have global analogs or dependencies. There are few business problems that do not have attendant social implications. And the same is absolutely true in reverse. When I talk about this, and I talk about it in the context of the leadership model of the Yale School of Management, I find that there is an almost instinctive positive response — a kind of "Aha!" moment, when people grasp that we’re more than just a finance school. More than just a nonprofit school. That Yale SOM is a school that creates the kind of managerial leadership that is urgently needed in today’s economy as well as today’s society.
The faculty and I have spent much of our time this summer enhancing the Leadership Development Program (LDP), a series of activities, diagnostic exercises, self-assessments, and faculty and peer feedback sessions that is required for all first year students. The Leadership Development Program works specifically in concert with many of the classes in our integrated core curriculum: "Interpersonal Dynamics," "Managing Groups and Teams,” and the “Careers” course, for example. But LDP, as it is conceived and taught, also has strong and explicit links to the "Organizational Perspectives" classes (Investor, Customer, Competitor, State and Society, Sourcing and Managing Funds, Employee, Innovator, and Operations Engine), as well as the "Integrated Leadership Perspective," the case-based, team-centered class that is the culmination of the SOM MBA core.
The Leadership Development Program is intended to enhance the entirety of our students’ MBA experience. But we also intend that the learnings gleaned from LDP will carry over into our graduates’ post-MBA lives. Whether a student plans to be an investment banker or a healthcare analyst, a social change activist or a consultant, a product manager, environmentalist, venture capitalist or CSR officer, or any other of the myriad career choices that are now available to Yale SOM graduates, the Leadership Development Program strives to provide the tools, self-awareness, and insights that can help to facilitate each student’s development into our vision of a Yale SOM graduate: a broadly-engaged, inspiring leader who owns and solves hard problems that matter.
As part of the LDP enhancements, several members of the faculty and I, with feedback from the SYAs (second-year student advisors who are responsible for individual LDP groups) have developed a teaching note for our incoming MBA class, entitled "Leadership at the Yale School of Management." (We academics can be surprisingly literal, especially when prompted by student feedback.)
This note, which will become a standard preparatory document for future incoming classes, defines our terms, outlining the Yale School of Management’s unique definition and model of leadership. Building from the school’s mission, the note describes a distinct Yale School of Management leadership model with the defining characteristics of social impact, integrity, authenticity, and passion. The note further delineates the inputs a student will need to contribute to this leadership learning and development process: experience, skills, self-awareness, relationships, and effort; and shows how each of these "inputs" can be acquired or enhanced at Yale SOM. By being explicit about our terms, as well as our expectations, we hope to set each student on their singular path to embodying his or her leadership, cast in the Yale SOM model, but uniquely perfected in the careers and lives of each one of our MBAs.
This may sound like a lofty aspiration. Indeed, in "Leadership at the Yale School of Management," we acknowledge that we are placing a somewhat daunting challenge before each student. But I believe the students are up to the challenge. And I believe as well that the school, through the clear objectives stated in the mission, through the broad perspectives provided by LDP and the integrated curriculum, through the dedication of our faculty and staff, and — finally and most importantly — through the example of our graduates, is well positioned to provide the essential resources necessary to meet this leadership challenge.
As I said at the outset of this message, it has been — and it continues to be — an amazing time at the school. There are still a few who don’t get what the school is about, but they are the ones who haven’t been paying attention. For the vast majority who believe in the potential of leadership in business and management to bring about positive change, whether it’s the bottom line or the bread line, the Yale School of Management’s distinct model of leadership both resonates and inspires.
Joel M. Podolny
Dean and William S. Beinecke Professor of Management