Leadership is a performance. That’s the central idea behind Harry Davis’ new class “Leadership Studio.” Davis, who joined Booth’s faculty in 1963, has introduced many innovative executive education programs in the United States and abroad. These programs include the first core leadership program of any top-rated MBA program in the country and the Management Lab.
When it comes to leadership, Harry Davis knows what he’s talking about. That’s why I knew in my last quarter at Booth, I had to take his new class. We began by immediately exploring the idea that leadership can be analogous to a performance act. Leaders have to perform many different roles and exhibit different characters while interacting with many different characters.
We use the theater stage as a framework. Those characters that are easy for you to exhibit are “downstage.” You can pull these out with ease. For example, maybe you’re an “outgoing one” or “a listener.” Then there are characters that are sort of hidden in the back of the stage. Maybe you’re a “fiery one” but you purposely try to leave this in the back until you really want to use it. Still behind those, you may have characters that are completely hidden from the public, or even hidden from yourself.
In “Leadership Studio” we draw our stage of characters after deep self-reflection. We then aim to develop new characters that we do not have in our arsenal. Ultimately, we develop actual field experiments to keep track of our development of these characters.
Leadership as a performance is the most interesting concept I’ve learned at Booth because it implies so much potential flexibility in my own leadership. It also implies that I can develop new leadership skills and experiment with them. Best of all, the stage is a handy metaphor that allows us to discover ourselves and the gaps in our characters.