Building on the Ross Tradition of Leadership Excellence

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At Ross, we’re committed to innovating the way business education is delivered to meet the needs of the changing world around us. Building on the Ross tradition of excellence, we’re rethinking how we teach and develop leaders for the 21st century. Leaders of tomorrow must be capable of acting in new ways. They must be highly anticipatory, adept, and capable of making the right decisions quickly and with imperfect information. They must have an appreciation for the broader role of business in the world. And they must have the cultural and social dexterity to lead in a truly global environment.

People often ask us, can leadership be taught?  Many surmise that successful leaders are born – they have the right natural instincts, intelligence, and charisma to carry them to the top. Research conducted by Ross School faculty demonstrates, however, that especially for times of change, effective leadership practices can and should be developed.

In August, we kicked off the school year with the Ross Leadership Initiative Foundation Session, and our 500 incoming full-time MBA students tackled social innovation projects throughout the city of Detroit. As students rolled up their sleeves to design innovative, for-profit solutions for positive change in the city, they were the first to be part of Ross’ new leadership development curriculum based on the Michigan Model of Leadership.

The Michigan Model of Leadership synthesizes extensive research of our faculty on effective leadership practices. It is designed to enable students to develop the skills and mindsets required for world-class leadership in the 21st century. Ross is ranked No. 1 in the world for leadership development,1 and as we position our curriculum for the future, the model will serve as the basis for leadership programming across our degree portfolio.  

The Michigan Model of Leadership emphasizes the values of empathy, courage, integrity, and drive as baselines for business today. It enables leaders to fully understand themselves, their potential, and the contexts in which they work. And it propels students to cultivate social and economic capital, develop high-functioning communities, build structures that promote sustainable performance, and enable positive change for both business and society.

The difference between the Michigan Model of Leadership and others is that it exposes many of the complex and sometimes paradoxical aspects of leadership, such as the need to both collaborate and compete with others in driving results and the need to create structures that are both adaptive and reliable. Through the model, students develop flexible skills to navigate these tensions in changing environments, resilience, and an appreciation for the significant responsibilities and opportunities inherent in leadership.

Action-based learning is one of the most powerful tools for teaching leadership. After all, leadership cannot be learned in a classroom alone. It is through an effective mix of principled teaching, experiential learning, self-assessment, and feedback that students truly develop new skills and an understanding of the complexities of leadership. 

The MBA student projects in Detroit exemplify action-based learning at Ross. As students worked in teams to design effective venture plans to address key social issues such as hunger, reliable transportation, affordable housing, and youth unemployment, they faced pressure-filled circumstances, unexpected challenges, and a complex set of deliverables. The winning team designed a concept for a mobile grocery store to offer fresh produce and protein in areas typically lacking in healthy food options.

Action-based learning occurs in many ways across the Ross curricula. In our MBA programs, it culminates in our signature Multidisciplinary Action Projects course, a three-month, in-company consulting experience with real stakes and real outcomes. Case competitions, simulations, and the Foundation Session at orientation are also key components. For undergraduate students, action learning will crescendo in the BBA case competitions, new this year. Michigan Ross pioneered the philosophy of action-based learning more than 20 years ago, and today we continue to advance the way business is learned through doing.

At Ross we believe leadership is a tremendous responsibility, and as we look toward the next generation of business education, we don’t take that lightly. We’re committed to preparing students to have the skills and global mindset to lead in the 21st century, and to have a sense of purpose and vision to make a positive difference for the world.

1 Leadership Excellence

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Alison Davis-Blake