Berkeley-Haas Revamping MBA Core Curriculum, Emphasizing Culture to Create Innovative Leaders

Developing innovative leaders is the new focus of the Haas School of Business, which is revamping its MBA core curriculum and emphasizing the school’s distinctive culture to shape its students.

The school defines innovative leaders as individuals who drive growth by putting new ideas into action in every corner and every function of their organizations, and who do so responsibly. Curricular changes and the new cultural emphasis will be launched this fall in both the Full-time MBA Program and the Evening & Weekend MBA Program.

“We want to prepare leaders who define what’s next for our markets and our societies,” said Haas School Dean Rich Lyons. “This kind of path-bending leader is more critical than ever to our collective future because our world is on so many unsustainable paths, in areas such as education, healthcare, demographics, safe water, and energy.

“Whether it is producing more fuel-efficient autos or creating new business processes, innovative leaders are the ones who will deliver into our idea-driven economy and create opportunity from the major challenges facing us within the lifetimes of our children.”

The school has been working on a new strategic plan and curricular changes over the past18 months. The Haas faculty has voted overwhelmingly to support the new strategic emphasis and changes to the curriculum.

All of the innovative leadership content is part of what is being called Berkeley Innovative Leader Development (BILD), a connecting theme that runs through the entire MBA curriculum, both core and elective.

The fundamentals of business, ranging from accounting and finance to marketing and strategy, will continue to anchor the Berkeley MBA core required courses. However, as part of the BILD approach, each core course has been reviewed to determine elements that contribute to the fundamental capabilities linked by research to innovative leadership.

New content on innovative leadership is being added to some courses, and related content is being flagged in all required courses. The innovative leadership content includes specific skills such as the ability to think critically and flexibly, and to recognize and foster creative ideas, among many others.

Two existing core courses, Leading People and Leadership Communications, have been restructured to offer additional leadership skills, such as the ability to influence others.

The BILD approach also includes new requirements that all students take a series of courses, workshops and coaching sessions that develop innovative leadership skills – such as problem finding and problem solving, which is part of a required course that introduces students to the innovation process. They must also take an experiential course in which they hone these skills in a real-life setting.

“Innovative leaders will still need to know accounting, finance, and marketing,” said Dean Lyons. “That’s why we will continue to require the basics of business for our students and teach from a general management perspective. At the same time, we will be calling out the content in our core courses in order to produce a particular kind of leader.”

A unique aspect of the new approach is the conscious use of the school’s culture to shape its MBA students as they learn how to be innovative leaders. As part of the strategic planning process, the school codified its culture into four defining principles:

  • Question the Status Quo:
    Being able to envision a different reality, to take intelligent risks, and to learn from failure, as well as having the courage to speak our minds.
  • Confidence without Attitude:
    Being able to make decisions based on facts and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance, leading through trust and collaboration.
  • Students Always:
    Having a mindset of curiosity and lifelong learning, seeking personal growth, and practicing behavior that tells others we can learn from them.
  • Beyond Yourself:
    Considering the long-term impact of our actions and the facility for putting larger interests above our own.

These four defining principles will be used in the selection process of MBA students, as well as be integrated into the curriculum in various ways. “These principles have always been the Haas heartbeat, but we have never articulated them until now and have never used them so deliberately to shape our students and graduates,” said Dean Lyons.

“The very best firms have strong cultures and values that encourage their employees to act in certain ways to be successful. We want to use our unique culture and values in the same way — to encourage and develop the attitudes and behaviors of innovative leaders in our students.”

Lyons noted that the defining principles are influenced by the school’s location in the San Francisco Bay Area – the world epicenter for innovation and entrepreneurship that contributes to an unmistakable atmosphere of innovation on the campus. These principles are also reflected in the pioneering scholarship of the Haas faculty members, such as Professor Oliver Williamson, who won the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for redefining how economists understand firms and markets.

BILD will also include the Berkeley MBA Leadership Development Series – a popular new suite of leadership development experiences that are offered to students as non-credit, hands-on workshops and seminars. The program is patterned after the applied leadership programming offered to senior leaders at the world’s best companies. This year the series included workshops led by leadership experts and best-selling authors Marshall Goldsmith and Patrick Lencioni.