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 Practical Leadership  posted by  duggu   on 12/8/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Bentley, Pat, 15.974 Practical Leadership, Fall 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 11 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A person dashes across a typical boardroom.
A person dashes across a typical boardroom. (Image courtesy of Nick Cowie, stock.xchng.)

Course Highlights

This course features a full set of lecture notes and assignments.

Course Description

Practical Leadership is an interactive seminar where students receive repeated coaching and real-time feedback on their own leadership capabilities from their peers and the instructor. The course is structured around a set of readings. However, the key component is each student's own self-assessment. These self-assessments are done by the students in the first week of the semester. The areas for improvement that the students identify are then targeted in the weekly role plays that are customized for each student in the class. The goal of the class is for each student to increase his or her own leadership abilities through an ongoing cycle of practice, feedback and reflection.

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.





Course Description

Leadership is the ability to influence a group of people towards a goal. In this course students will increase their own leadership capacities through feedback, reflection and practice. Even though all of us have had leadership opportunities, we all too rarely receive candid, insightful feedback on our actual performance that then allows us to think, act and speak more effectively in the next situation. The heart of this course is the repeated coaching and real-time feedback the students will receive on their own leadership activities from their peers and the instructor. Students will use readings, role plays, experiential exercises, and self-reflection, as well as focused coaching and feedback, to optimize their own leadership capabilities. You need not be in a position of authority to take this course. Course deliverables include: active participation in your own leadership growth during the semester and a written packet that summarizes your reflections and experiences around leadership during the course.



Summary of Major Assignments

  • Class Participation

  • Distributed Leadership Assessment

  • Creation of your Leadership Packet: Leadership Definition, Self-Assessment, Action Plan and Results, Leadership Journal, Next Steps

  • Meeting with class Instructor to go over your Self-Assessment and Action Plan

Description of Major Assignments

Class Participation

I look for your attentive, active participation in class. In addition to contributing to the general class discussion, you will be expected to participate in a role play during each class. You will receive the role play in advance along with specific instructions about your particular role. NOTE: The role plays are the intersection of the readings for the week and the students' areas for improvement. I provide the story line and the goals; the students then interact within that storyline. I do not script the role play, the interaction is an improvisation created by the students. I use various scenarios such as hiring decisions, ethical decisions, the act of firing someone or C-level presentations to create the context. I then assign each student a particular role and agenda within that scenario. For example, if one student is trying to improve his/her ability to handle conflict and another student is trying to improve his/her ability to think on his/her feet, I have the first student fire the second while the second student fights to retain his/her job. The context for the scenario changes each week, although all are business scenarios. Roles change each week. The area of focus for each student usually changes each week. I email all the students the current week's scenario and problem to be handled usually two days before the next class. I also send separate emails to each student with information about his or her role that no one else knows. For example, I would tell the student being fired that he/she has a major illness and desperately needs to keep his/her health coverage. Part of the role play is deciding if, when and how to divulge any additional information. Sometimes different groups of students do the same role play, sometimes not. The length of each role play is based on making sure that each person gets to do a role play at least once each week. The class and the instructor give feedback to each student after each role play. 

Distributed Leadership Assessment

An online assessment of your leadership skills through the lens of the Distributed Leadership Model. You are asked to take the Assessment and have at least five of your colleagues use it to give you feedback. Ideally your colleagues will include at least one of your managers, and at least two each of your peers and your direct reports. You may also ask for feedback from your customers. NOTE: The Distributed Leadership Assessment is an online 360 feedback instrument that is based on the Distributed Leadership Model used at Sloan. It provides the student with a window onto how others perceive his or her leadership skills. The results from this feedback are incorporated into the student's Action Plan for the course. There are many different 360 feedback tools available; use the one that is appropriate for your organization. There is no current mechanism to make this assessment tool available to those outside of Sloan.

Leadership Definition

A definition of leadership that resonates for you.


Your candid assessment of your current strengths and weaknesses as a leader. NOTE: I have the students do a straight forward assessment of their own leadership strengths and weaknesses. I do this in conjunction with the readings on different leadership traits. For example, a student might list strengths of charisma, decisiveness and energy and weaknesses of empathy and growing others. I expect them to describe each strength or weakness with a paragraph, including examples. The students can use the traits described in the readings or not; that is not the point. The goal is for each student to describe his or her own leadership qualities - and then identify which ones will be targeted for improvement during the course. One of the readings is about the Distributed Leadership Model which is used here at Sloan. Your organization may have its own leadership model; you can substitute that for the Distributed Leadership Model reading.

Action Plan and Results

Based on your Self-Assessment and the results from the Distributed Leadership Survey, you will create an Action Plan, a plan to improve specific areas of your leadership abilities during this course. Your Plan states both what aspects of leadership you wish to improve and where you will practice these new leadership skills and to what ends. You can focus on one large opportunity (such as running a Sloan Club) or a multiple smaller opportunities (study groups, class projects, your best friend's wedding). At the end of the course you will hand in a written report of your Action Plan and the Results you achieved. In the last class you will also give a brief presentation of your results. NOTE: I do not have a preference for format or style. I do expect a certain level of self-challenge in the goals the student outlines. I will strongly urge a re-write if I feel the student is missing an opportunity.


You are expected to keep a Journal where you document leadership moments you encounter. This Journal is where you will record and analyze your own leadership opportunities through the lens of your Action Plan: what I did well, what I might have done differently. For example, if your Action Plan calls for you to improve your ability to drive rapid decisions, you should record each such opportunity you encounter and how you respond to that opportunity. The Journal is your scrapbook of leadership in the raw. You may also find it helpful to record other people's leadership examples (good and bad) that you observe or read about that pertain to your areas of focus. From time to time you will be asked to present some of the stories from your Journal to the class.

Meeting with Class Instructor

You are expected to meet with the Instructor (outside of class) to go over your Self-Assessment and proposed Action Plan. This will be scheduled during the 2nd week of class.

Next Steps

At the end of the course you will outline your plan to continue your own leadership growth. This may be a continuation of your Action Plan. It may have different components. It should have at least a one year horizon.

Course Format

This is an interactive seminar. Most weeks we will have the same two key components: a discussion of the reading for the week and then a role play. For the most part the role plays will be done in groups of three or four; these groups will change each week. Each time a group finishes, the rest of the class will provide their comment and critique. Every student will take part in at least one role play every week.

Basis for Grade

This course will be graded Pass/Fail. This structure gives you the freedom to work on your leadership skills without the pressure of an overly detailed measure of success. As is true in so many things, you will get out of this course what you put into it. In order to Pass, all assignments must be completed and handed in by the last day of class with appropriate effort.





1 Introduction and Overview Set the baseline. What understanding of leaders and leadership have each of us already acquired?

Brief overview of the theories and themes in this course
2 Leadership Frameworks Trait Theory

Distributed Leadership Model

Brief Discussion of Action Plans

Leadership Traits Role Play
Due this week

Self-Assessment and Action Plan

Completion of Distributed Leadership Assessment

Meeting with Instructor
3 Communication Different Communication Styles and Structures

Giving Good Feedback: How to be a Good Coach

Journal Entries

Distributed Leadership Assessment Results

Giving/Receiving Feedback Role Play
Due this week

Review results from Distributed Leadership Assessment

Revised Self-Assessment
4 Situational Leadership Explore Leadership Types

Journal Entries

Situational Role Play
5 Influencing Others Leading without Authority

Journal Entries

Leading from Any Chair Role Play
6 Decision-making Decision-making Models

Decision-making Styles

Recommendations for Changes to this Course

Decision-making Role Play

Brief Summary of Results of Action Plans
Due today

Final version of Leadership Packet:

(a) Leadership Definition

(b) Self-Assessment

(c) Action Plan and Result

(d) Journal

(e) Next Steps   Tell A Friend