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Taking the Lead in Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders

By Donna Coco

Kate McKone-Sweet

“We need leaders who are good at analytics and predictive approaches but who can act when data is missing or when they come into a completely new environment.”

—Kate McKone-Sweet

The world needs a new kind of leader. Look at the financial crises facing the world and the unethical behavior of management, says Kate McKone-Sweet, associate professor of technology and operations management and co-author of The New Entrepreneurial Leader. “Management gurus say business education is broken,” she continues, “but few offer a solution.”

Babson has a solution. Teach students how to be entrepreneurial leaders. “We need leaders who look at social, environmental, and economic opportunity simultaneously, not sequentially,” says McKone-Sweet. “We need leaders who are good at analytics and predictive approaches but who can act when data is missing or when they come into a completely new environment.” They need to be creative. They must understand themselves, know how to use social networks, and be open to other cultures. These leaders are needed in all types of organizations: for-profit, nonprofit, government; large, medium, small.

The skills these leaders must possess are not addressed by the traditional business education. Babson knows this and is taking action. From a grand overhaul this fall of the MBA program to ambitious alterations underway at the Undergraduate School to writing The New Entrepreneurial Leader, which outlines how other institutions can embrace and make such critical changes, the College is committed to ensuring students will thrive in today and tomorrow’s complex, fast-paced global economy.

Bold Moves for Uncertain Times

We live in uncertain times, says Raghu Tadepalli, Murata Dean, F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business. “How do you lead when you don’t have information? How do you take risk when you don’t have information? How do you learn from actions that you take?” he questions. “In the absence of information, leaders still have to make decisions. They still have to lead people—multicultural people from all over the world.”

Raghu Tadepalli

“In the absence of information, leaders still have to make decisions. They still have to lead people—multicultural people from all over the world.”

—Raghu Tadepalli

The graduate school’s revamped program prepares students to take on these leadership roles. The common core courses, which all students take, now focus on the operation of organizations, regardless of size, and teach functional business knowledge intertwined with Babson’s trademarked methodology, Entrepreneurial Thought and Action, and the principles of SEERS (social, environmental, and economic responsibility and sustainability). These common core courses are categorized into four themed modules, each of which also includes a hands-on project called a Signature Learning Experience (SLE) that puts theory into practice. “These are meant to tie what’s going on in the world to what’s going on in the classroom,” says Tadepalli. “We want students to appreciate what it means to be an entrepreneurial leader. Entrepreneurial leaders need to be able to operate out of their zone of comfort.”

Between modules two and three, students participate in a four-day SLE, “Managing Talent: Your Own and Others,” to help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses and how to apply that knowledge when managing others. Two courses with a global focus, one on business, government, and the global economy, the other on connecting through technology, were added to the common core, as were slots for two electives, allowing students to specialize more quickly. To free up time for students to network and land internships, time in the classroom was scaled back.

Entrepreneurial leaders are needed in all types of organizations, notes Tadepalli. “As I was telling my students, opportunities don’t always come with flashing lights. They are what I would call weak signals in the environment. Entrepreneurial leaders can visualize what these weak signals could translate into, and then convince a group of people that there is a vision around this weak signal,” he says. “I want our students to learn how to recognize weak signals and develop the confidence to make quick decisions on them.”

Stepping Back to Look Forward

At the Undergraduate School, recent changes to the curriculum mean revisions are needed more than complete reform, says Dennis Hanno, dean and President’s Chair in Accounting. “In the last five years we’ve seen the world—and Babson—shift from not just being about profit but also being about environmental and social value.” The school has made a number of changes to increase the focus on these issues inside and outside the curriculum, says Hanno, but hasn’t stepped back and thought about how to incorporate these principles more deeply. “How would we revolutionize what we do?” he asks.

Dennis Hanno

“In the last five years we’ve seen the world—and Babson—shift from not just being about profit but also being about environmental and social value.”

—Dennis Hanno

One goal, starting with the first-year experience and carrying through each year to graduation, is to analyze how SEERS is addressed. “Are there ways that we can better integrate these themes into what we do?” says Hanno. Consider “Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship.” Although students donate earnings to charities, says Hanno, that doesn’t integrate the idea of social and environmental responsibility into students’ business decisions. He wants students to think more consciously about the choices they make around the products they develop.

Hanno also wants to create more conscious links between what students learn in liberal arts and what they learn in their management courses. “My analogy of describing the way I would love our curriculum to look is this double helix that would tie in with the idea of ‘what’s the Babson DNA?’” says Hanno. “It really is the true integration of liberal arts and management throughout all four years. It’s as simple, for instance, as taking some of the things we do in history or society and linking them with what goes on in FME.”

Other ideas include creating Signature Learning Experiences for the sophomore and senior years. “For senior year, we’re toying with creating a theme—whether it’s poverty or global climate change, whatever—and having students participate in something related to that theme,” says Hanno. “We want students to walk away from here and say, wow, that was a really great thing we did.”

Refocusing the curriculum is part of a broader discussion about what the Undergraduate School wants its centennial graduates, the Class of 2019, to look like, says Hanno. Considering those students enter in 2015, that gives the school a little more than three years to carry out some ambitious plans, and curriculum changes will begin to roll out as early as 2012. Such changes will attract students who also share these values, says Hanno. “If we’re explicit about what we value,” he continues, “it will enable students as they progress through their four years here to understand what we think is important for them to take into their lives, not just their work, after Babson.”

“We’re doing something really different here,” says McKone-Sweet, whose hope with The New Entrepreneurial Leader is to start a dialogue with and spread the word to others in academia about Babson’s innovative ideas. “Babson already has been recognized for its distinct curriculum. We’re not getting rid of the things we do well. We’re enabling students to graduate with greater leadership capabilities,” she says. “When they graduate, they should be able to hit the ground running. They will stand out within whatever organization they join, because they will be a different style of leader.”