Instructor Insights

Rocking Students Back on Their Heels

In this section, Dr. Leigh Hafrey shares that students are often surprised by the idea “the concept of story is fundamental to leadership”.

"It generally surprised them that I would … suggest story as a means of getting to ethical or values-based leadership."
— Leigh Hafrey

The majority of the students who take 15.269 Leadership Stories: Literature, Ethics, and Authority, are in the Sloan MBA program. In my early years teaching the course, which I began now 20 years ago, many students who took it had read a lot of books as undergraduates and were looking for something a little different from their other Sloan classes. English majors have always been few and far between at Sloan, though, and most of the students came to 15.269 because they wanted to talk about leadership or ethics. It generally surprised them that I would then suggest story as a means of getting to ethical or values-based leadership.

Some of the fun of it, of course, lies precisely in that—the surprise factor. I have to admit I like rocking people back on their heels a bit. Early on (and still today) I led the course off with DuBose Heyward’s (1939) The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. It’s 20 pages long and heavily illustrated. I actually used this text in a seminar at the World Economic Forum’s 1997 Annual Meeting in Davos. The reaction was the same. Everyone says, “You’ve got to be kidding, right?” But Heyward’s story is about the glass ceiling, about management and organization, about motivation, about succession planning. It’s all there, really, the dynamics of individuals and organizations, and we take it in without even realizing what we have done.

As one of my Sloan students said to me recently, “Now I see story everywhere.”

Reference

Heyward, DuBose. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. Houghton Mifflin Books for Young Readers, 1939. ISBN: 9780395159903. [Preview with Google Books]

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