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Can you teach empathy? Brenda Ellington Booth believes you can.
Booth, a clinical professor of leadership at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, is teaching a new MBA class this year that helps students increase their levels of emotional intelligence, specifically as it relates to leading diverse teams.
Leading with Empathy: Enhancing Your Emotional Intelligence to Lead in Diverse Settings is a new course, one of five new electives at Kellogg in 2021-2022. But Booth, who joined Kellogg in 1999, has been having conversations — and breakthroughs — about empathy for many years.
“I think it’s not an on-off — it’s a spectrum, a continuum, and I teach it in the framework of emotional intelligence,” she tells Poets&Quants about the practical teaching of empathy. She dismisses the idea that it’s something “you either have or you don’t.”
“There is research that says that you can become more emotionally intelligent — and if empathy is a part of emotional intelligence, then you can get better,” Booth says. Her class “is very experiential, very learn-from-others as you go through this, very much about self-awareness in the context of others, which is what all of my classes are.”
AT 26 U.S. B-SCHOOLS, 173 NEW COURSES IN MANAGEMENT, FINANCE & MORE
Kellogg’s Brenda Ellington Booth
Brenda Ellington Booth’s new course is one of five being taught for the first time this year at Kellogg and one of 173 new courses at the 26 leading business schools in the United States. They range from the topical — four courses focus on climate change, for instance — to the basic: accounting, data science, business analytics are well-represented, but so are marketing, leadership, and organizational studies.
In 2019, the last time we did this story, there were 182 new courses at 25 schools; two years before that, there were around 130. Once again, some schools have more new offerings than others — Yale School of Management has the most new classes this year, with 20. Harvard Business School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business each have 16 new courses. Meanwhile, two schools — Duke University Fuqua School of Business and Indiana University Kelley School of Business — have no new MBA courses this year.
Most new courses are categorized in one of a few umbrella disciplines. By far the most are categorized as “management” courses: 39. Next is finance with 27, followed by 12 for marketing and 10 each for entrepreneurship, strategy, and operations. Eight are business administration classes and six are data science/business analytics. Five are accounting, four organizational behavior, and three leadership.
HOW — AND WHERE — TO TEACH EMPATHY
Brenda Ellington Booth’s course is listed under the latter category, though it could probably fit in any number of disciplines. What matters more is how and where it’s being taught: There may be no better business school to teach empathy than Northwestern Kellogg.
“With so much change and disruption happening constantly, we can’t predict how the world will evolve in the next 10 years, much less the next 50 years,” according to the school’s language on the importance of empathy. “But what won’t change is the need for leaders who have the rare ability to understand and influence people, and to inspire teams with diverse backgrounds and perspectives — leaders who demonstrate great empathy.”
Kellogg long ago embraced the notion of being an inclusive place for all students, Booth says. “And it is a very diverse population of students — probably the common denominators are that they’re all super smart, but beyond that, there’s lots of diversity. And so we work really hard, even in orientation week, to really foster that sense of diversity.”
One way they do that is through a “culture box” exercise, in which students pick three physical objects that represent important parts of their social identities — race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, etc. — and explain them to a small group of peers. The goal is to help others gain a deeper understanding of some of others’ formative experiences — including their joys and their struggles.
“Historically, Kellogg has a culture of being team-based. And so, it’s in the DNA of Kellogg,” Booth says. “And it’s a nice culture, and sometimes it’s overly nice — tough feedback is hard in our culture. We call it ‘Kellogg nice.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, no, you’re great.’ ‘Give me feedback.’ ‘I can’t think of anything.’ But it’s a very supportive lookout-for-your-fellow-classmates culture. And so empathy, I think, is always below the surface.”
What’s unique about Booth’s class: Through the lens of growth and learning, it pushes students to have uncomfortable conversations — and to really listen to each other.
“I think so many of us don’t really listen to each other or don’t even ask those questions because it’s politically incorrect or uncomfortable, but I’m trying to create that space where it is comfortable, so people can really learn,” she says.
In the bulk of the class, students are grouped according to social identity. “It could be gender, it could be race, it could be mental health, it could be anything,” Booth says. “And I have them talk about what it’s like in that situation. When do they feel like they’re in the in-group? When do they feel like when they’re in the out-group? When did they struggle? How do they perceive other groups? How do they perceive how other groups experience them?”
A pre-Covid pilot of the course went well: “People said, ‘This is such a heavy class in a good way.’ Particularly when we did mental health, people had no idea how hard it was. But just understanding people’s lived experiences and how they have to deal with whatever they’re dealing with — it could be obvious and it could be below the surface, but we all have something to share.
“The impetus of this class came out of the marriage of Covid and all the craziness of 2020. And just all these conversations I’ve found myself in and just feeling a need for two things. Number one, people feeling comfortable about who they are and where they are in their journey in terms of understanding just the diverse fabric in which we live and work. And then secondly, taking time to understand that your life experiences shaped your values, your thoughts, and how you approach things. Your judgment and assumptions. But then taking the time to understand that about someone else who has a different set of life experiences. And so, that’s where the class is different.”
Teaching a course that is reminiscent of one of the most famous electives in business school history, Booth unsurprisingly learned empathy herself from long-time Stanford professor Helen Schrader, who died in 2015 at 100 after more than 50 years’ teaching. Shrader taught Booth “that we need to just have conversations to appreciate others’ lived experiences. And so a bazillion years ago, when I was an undergrad, she did this experiment. And it was incredible for me personally. And it was a paradigm shift for me in terms of how I viewed differences in others. And so I’ve just brought it to 2021 and overlaid the theory behind it.”
Angela Noble-Grange, senior lecturer of management communications at Cornell Johnson
What is courage? Specifically — since we’re talking about business school — what is workplace courage?
The first thing Angela Noble-Grange asks MBA students to do in her new class is define that well-known, but not-so-well-understood, term.
“I teach at a business school, I’m not in an undergraduate liberal arts program,” Noble-Grange, a senior lecturer of management communication at Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management, tells Poets&Quants. “This is a business school. So how do you define courage in the workplace? And then they come up with their definition.”
So begins Courageous Communication, which in many ways is a culmination of Noble-Grange’s long career at Cornell, where she earned her MBA in 1994 and founded the Johnson School’s first diversity office in 1999.
‘HOW CAN YOU PRESERVE THE RELATIONSHIP?’
“It’s a long journey to this course,” she says. But it’s also very much a reflection of the world we live in. “This course is in response to the division that’s happening in the country. I kept asking myself, about a year ago or so when we’re arguing about Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter and lots of things. Things aren’t great now, either — we’re arguing about masks and vaccines. But back then, I thought to myself, ‘What can my role be where I am in the world. and that’s with business school students, and how is this affecting their lives at work and in general?’ Especially because most of the time we’re working from home and societal pressures are just everywhere.
“So I decided to stick with what I know, which is communications, and came up with a course that calls on the students to do a little bit more than just traditional communication.”
But how do you speak to somebody who has a completely opposite point of view than yours? And how do you do it in a respectful and professional way so that you can preserve the relationship? These questions are paramount in today’s diverse workplaces — and their answers are essential for success. “Because at work we don’t have the ability to just say, ‘Oh, I don’t like you because you believe in X and now I’m not going to work with you,’ or ‘You can’t be my customer,’ or ‘I’m not going to work for you or with you or anything.’ So I thought there was definitely a place for this in a business school.”
‘IT’S INCREDIBLY HARD FOR MBA STUDENTS’ TO PUT ASIDE THEIR FEELINGS & LISTEN
The first thing to know about Courageous Communication, which had a pilot in the spring semester, is that it is not a debate class.
“I had to make a choice about the things are we going to talk about,” Noble-Grange says. “So we’re not discussing Black Lives versus Blue Lives. It’s totally not a debate. So many people think that course would involve debate. It’s not at all related to debate.”
Instead, after sharing definitions — “a pretty powerful and interesting conversation” — the course unfolds as an active listening session. “The absolute foundation to entering a courageous conversation is your ability to come into any conversation with curiosity and openness to the other person’s point of view, and a willingness to put aside your own feelings about a topic,” Noble-Grange says. “That’s incredibly hard for MBA students. We tend to think we know a lot, and we’re leaders and we’re all this. So you have to put that aside and just really listen to somebody. So we work on listening first and that’s a challenge. And then from there we talk about vulnerability.”
Following that, students engage in reflective listening exercises. “They would go back to their apartments or whatever, and I might say something to them: ‘Think about somebody in your life, who you have a completely different opinion from.’ And they had all different kinds of situations. It was really interesting. And then I said, ‘I want you to go into the conversation. Now you’re going to try to start a real-life conversation.’ This isn’t a case study and your job is to just listen to what the other person’s saying, validate what the other person is saying. Do not offer your opinion at all. Try that and see how it goes.”
USING THE HARVARD NEGOTIATION PROJECT AS A MODEL
It was extremely difficult. But to her surprise, there were no meltdowns.
“Their job was to reflect on it and send the paper to me. What was easy about it? What was hard about it? And then we would just take these steps, following the model that was done with the Harvard Negotiation Project. And they produced a book called Difficult Conversations. It’s old stuff, but it’s so relevant today. And so we use that model of, you go in, you listen to what another person says, you validate them, you listen to their story, their experiences that they’ve had in their life. And then you say, ‘Is it okay for me to offer mine?’ And then you offer yours and you work towards some sort of a shared resolution.
“And so we were working on that model all the way through the course until the very end when I split them — and then I did take societal topics, and their final was one of these societal topics. I asked them in the beginning of the term what their feelings were about different things. ‘Do you strongly agree with something or don’t agree at all, or are you moderate on several issues that they found interesting and relevant. And then I would put them with someone who was on the other end of the spectrum, and they would have to have a conversation about it.
“The goal of their conversation was to just learn another person’s perspective. It was not to win somebody over to your side. It was not for you to be persuaded to their side. It sounds so simple, but it’s so difficult to do: just to appreciate and understand another person’s experience and point of view.”
‘JUDGMENT IS THE ENEMY OF COURAGEOUS COMMUNICATION”
What is courage? Angela Noble-Grange shares definitions from Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelous with her MBA students; but she made this, from professor and author Brene Brown, part of the class syllabus:
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
It sounds like — and Noble-Grange hopes it is — a class that will have an impact on people many years after they leave the Johnson MBA program.
“I’m so incredibly excited,” she says. “So many people recognize the difficulty for everyone. Not just our students, but everyone, including me. So somebody who has a different political opinion from me and I can’t be a hypocrite. I tell the students, ‘This is incredibly difficult stuff.’ I had a situation yesterday at a board meeting where something really awful happened, somebody challenged somebody, somebody defended themselves instead of listening to the challenge and finding the truth. And they defended themselves which escalated the entire thing. And it didn’t have to be that way. And what I learned about myself in that moment as a communications professor was that I got frozen in judgment — and judgment is the enemy of a successful, courageous communication.”
See the next pages for a complete list of new courses at the top 25 MBA programs in the United States.
Harvard Business School
New Course: Global Climate Change
Instructor: Gunnar Trumbull, Philip Caldwell Professor of Business Administration
The course will assess the origins, context and implications of climate change for business and society. It will explore how and why we have created climate change; how it will change the world we live in; and how we can and will respond to it. The course will consider the scientific, economic, social, political, and ethical context of that response. It will also be explicitly an exploratory course, with the goal of developing/refining an approach for teaching climate change at HBS.
New Course: Risks, Opportunities, And Investments In The Era Of Climate Change
Instructor: George Serafeim, Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration
There is broad scientific consensus that to avert the most catastrophic consequences from climate change we would need to limit global increase in temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius (2DS). To achieve this scenario there are multiple future carbon pathways with most of them pointing to the need to reach net zero emissions across many geographies approximately in the middle of the 21st century. This transition to net zero creates a host of risks and opportunities for organizations and their investors. Should this goal not be reached and inaction with respect to climate change prevail this will lead to increasing physical risks from natural disasters and changes in the natural environment.
The course examines holistically all these climate-related risks and opportunities, under different scenarios, with an emphasis on measuring, valuing, and designing data analytics, investment processes, products, and contracts through the lens of climate change.
Northwestern Kellogg School of Management
New Course: Wealthtech: Innovations in the Investment World
Instructor: Erez Levy
During the last decade, technological innovations have disrupted the financial industry. Financial technologies, known as Fintech, are influencing almost every aspect in the financial world. This course aims to expose students to the effects of technological innovations in the investment world, known as Wealthtech. In this course, we discuss how technology changes the traditional way of investment management, for both institutional and private investors. The discussion will focus on the following two aspects: First, Investment tools, once available only to professional investors, are now available to private investors. Therefore, it is important to understand their essence and the challenges they present in using them effectively. Second, Fintech introduced several innovations in the investment world, among them are: new data sets, alternative investment opportunities, platforms and assets. In this course, the students will be exposed to these innovations and discuss their properties (in particular their advantages and disadvantages) and how these innovations can be used in practice.
MIT Sloan School of Management
New Course: Overcoming Obstacles to Entrepreneurial Success
Instructors: Ed Roberts, Imran Sayeed
The course focuses on identifying, understanding, and coping with major problems that arise from the founding of a new enterprise through its early and later growth stages on the pathway to entrepreneurial success. Successful entrepreneurs, including VCs and social impact founder-builders, are recruited to develop brief capsule descriptions of a major issue each had to overcome on the path toward entrepreneurial success. One entrepreneur is featured each week. Student teams present brief proposed solutions for general discussion in class with the speaker, which is followed by the speaker’s presentation of the approach to solution that was actually taken and why. Each class begins with discussion of the related academic entrepreneurship research and understandings of the day’s topic. Subject is prototype of desired “dual-track” approach to entrepreneurial education that integrates academic research and practitioner experience.
VIRGINIA DARDEN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
New Course: Thinking of a Master Plan: Nonprofit Management, Metrics, and Impact Making
Instructor: Antoinette Irving
Working insight into the economic, strategic, and socio-political factors underpinning social impact. Students will learn to assess organizational capacity and the structures, processes and human capital necessary to effectively manage an enterprise. A deeper understanding of non profits and the environmental and social problems they address.Learn to adapt and fine tune their professional skills in a different sector.
NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
New Course: Fashion & Luxury Solutions
Instructor: Thomai Sedari
Creating an effective customer experience is about more than just ensuring your customers receive the products and services they desire in a timely and efficient manner. It’s also about creating a full experience filled with multiple touchpoints with real people who can organically evangelize and grow your brand through their social media and offline interactions with friends and family. This is especially true for the Fashion & Luxury sector. In this course, students will learn and apply customer experience and journey mapping principles to a real project sponsor. Students will demonstrate how to narrow down to a specific customer journey and deliver a solution for the Fashion & Luxury sector at large.
UCLA ANDERSON SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
New Course: Technology and Society: Dynamic Relationship and Changing Role of Leaders
Instructor: Terfry Cramer
This course will look at the dynamic and disruptive nature of technology – – enhancing outcomes that benefit enterprises and society collectively in areas such as financial services, education and healthcare. It will look at the unique ability of new technologies whether based on high speed networks, artificial intelligence or cloud computing coupled with new business models such as the platform-based businesses and the shared economy to create transformational offerings which benefits both businesses and society. Cases exploring the disruptive effects of platform based, online education, low cost telehealth solutions and new digital platforms for payments and financial transactions which create a multiplier effect of economic growth in developing markets will be covered… Ultimately, this course will look at the changing role of leaders in all sectors –– in business and government and their role in supporting technology-based innovation to serve a multitude of stakeholders while minimizing unintended consequences and negative externalities.
UNC KENAN-FLAGLER BUSINESS SCHOOL
New Course: Storytelling to Influence and Inspire
Instructor: Heidi Schultz
In today’s dynamic and technology-driven world, it’s hard to craft any message that will successfully compete for attention and create connection. One of the oldest tools of influence in human history, storytelling, can help you succeed in ways that other kinds of communication cannot. Storytelling to Influence and Inspire teaches you how to cut through “informational noise,” whether you need to articulate your vision, generate buy-in, share your brand, offer hope, or sell ideas and products. Strategic storytelling enables you to connect with others in an emotional and memorable way, ensuring that your messages stand out and that you can advance your strategic objectives.
TEXAS McCOMBS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
New Course: Dare to Lead
Instructor: Brené Brown
Courage is a collection of four skill sets that are teachable, observable, and measurable: Rumbling with vulnerability; living into our values, BRAVING trust, learning to rise. The focus of this course is building these skills and learning how to embed courage in organizational cultures to increase creativity, innovation, accountability, and feedback. We will also explore the differences between armored and daring leadership and the common indicator behaviors we see in organizations that support or undermine courageous cultures. Students who successfully complete the course will receive the Dare to Lead Trained designation.
GEORGETOWN MCDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
New Course: Social Marketing for Global Good
Instructor: Gael O’Sullivan
Serving as an elective for the new MBA Certificate in Sustainable Business, Social Marketing for Global Good will emphasize the important distinctions that exist in the application of marketing approaches to solving social and environmental problems. Commercial marketing primarily revolves around selling goods and services, while social marketing uses the principles of commercial marketing to promote behaviors that benefit individuals and society.
“Social marketing builds on commercial marketing, and behavioral science more broadly, to drive changes that make the world a better place,” said O’Sullivan. “We are excited to offer this new course to our many MBA students who want to use their business training for the global good.”
GEORGIA TECH SCHELLER COLLEGE OF BUSINESS
New Course: Work, Equity, and Wellness
Instructor: Tiffany Johnson
In this course, students learn about and reflect on the historical and present-day intersections of work, racial equity, and wellness. Weekly class discussions are supported by readings, podcasts, and documentaries. Guided by the philosophy of scholars such as Audre Lorde and bell hooks – to heal self on the path to healing society- students will be invited to connect to course content by reflecting on how it resonates with personal and organizational experiences. Students will be assigned to pod-like groups in which they meet regularly, share their reflections & their own wisdom, and offer feedback for each other’s class assignments. The class culminates with students presenting projects that are aimed at reimagining approaches to work, racial equity, and wellness in their personal lives and in workplaces/organizations that they care about.