What is Leadership Lab all about?

Leadership Lab has the mission of helping CBS students become stronger and more versatile leaders. We believe that people grow as leaders through precise assessment, one-on-one coaching, and engaging interactive experiences. 

  • Assessment tells you where you are strong and where you need to develop. 
  • Coaching helps you plan action steps and monitor improvement. 
  • Interactive experiences allow you to experiment with new leadership behaviors and see how they affect other people.

Though our classes and workshops involve experiential exercises and simulations, we also believe in learning from the longer term experiences that are central to an MBA: working in a Learning Team, conducting a Career Search, and running student organizations. So, we have structured waves of coaching with Peer Advisors, Career Services staff, and external executive coaches to turn these experiences into laboratories for learning leadership capabilities. 

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Is Leadership Lab a degree program?

No. Leadership Lab is not a degree program; it is a program that develops courses and extracurricular activities that are woven through the full-time MBA and EMBA programs at Columbia Business School.

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How is Leadership Lab delivered to students?

Leadership Lab integrates the expertise of many parts of the Columbia Business School community, including the Management Division and the offices of Admissions, Alumni Relations, Student Affairs, and Career Services. It is largely delivered through a series of extracurricular activities that span the entire MBA experience, from first-year orientation to alumni reunions. These activities focus on different aspects of leading, starting with managing one’s career and managing peers and teams, then shifting toward the challenges of larger organizations and wielding authority. Three streams of extracurricular activities are:

  • Navigating Careers: Assessment feedback on personal interests, motivators, and strengths is provided in orientation. Experiential workshops provide practice in networking and interviewing successfully. Coaches prepare students to succeed in and learn from management challenges in the summer internship.
  • Leading Teams: Assessment feedback on teamwork styles, experiential exercises, and peer advisor coaching are used to help study groups develop effective team processes.
  • Advanced Leadership: Continued training and practical experience are offered to second-year full-time MBAs serving as club leaders or peer advisors.

The method of Leadership Lab teaching comes from the perspective of leadership as a set of capabilities in understanding and managing interactions. 

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How does Leadership Lab tie into Columbia Business School's curriculum?

Leadership Lab is closely intertwined with the lead-off class in the MBA Core—Lead: People, Teams and Organizations—and its counterpart in the EMBA Core—Leadership and Organizational Change. The 360 Assessment and the Executive Coaching in these classes is sponsored and administered by Leadership Lab.  We also run assessments that are used in several other classes, including Napoleon's Glance. Some of the most popular recent electives have started as Leadership Lab workshops, including: Personal Leadership, The Leaders Voice, and Patagonia Leadership Expedition.

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How does Leadership Lab compare with how leadership is taught at other top business schools?

Some schools rely heavily on a "great man" theory of leadership.  Students read cases or authorized biographies describing the success of talented CEOs, presidents, and generals. However, the subjects and authors of these histories usually have no way of truly knowing how and why they succeeded and are hardly objective in assigning credit and blame.  Although there are lessons from history, the danger of learning from the older generation's war stories is taking away battle plans suited to the last war rather than the next one.

We believe that leadership is not a unitary talent or gift, but a set of learned capabilities or skills, each of which is suited to some situations but not others. We look for evidence not just in historical examples of success but also in systematic social science evidence. Our program is organized around the psychological capabilities involved in motivating, guiding and integrating the efforts of others. Columbia has the strongest faculty in psychology of any top business school and thus can teach leadership in terms of capabilities in this way. We teach these through assessment, coaching, and interactive experiences—both in the classes and in extracurricular activities. Our involvement of the research faculty ensures that valid assessment tools are used and the results are interpreted soundly and rigorously.

New generations will face different and more complex challenges and so need to develop a broad repertoire of leadership skills. Leadership Lab focuses on what leadership means to students currently, in the near future, and in the new challenges that their generation of leaders will face.

Though other top business schools use some of these methods, ours is the only program where an integrated model of leadership development informs the Core, the electives, and the extracurricular programs.

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Is the issue of Social Intelligence something new?

The claim that people’s social judgment and facility is distinct from IQ is not new. But new evidence documents this claim and has renewed urgency in the desire to teach it.

The concept of “social intelligence” as distinct from analytic intelligence was first proposed by Columbia University psychologist Edward Thorndike. In 1920, Thorndike made the case that the capabilities required in managing others in the workplace are distinct from the abstract intelligence on which most academic training focuses: “The best mechanic in a factory may fail as a foreman for lack of social intelligence.” His proposal of multiple intelligences was debated for decades, because most of the traditional ways of measuring social intelligence through verbal tests tended to also tap analytic intelligence.

Recently, new sciences have uncovered better evidence for social intelligence. Researchers have increasingly moved to studying behavioral performance rather than just answers to test questions. A popular review of this work by Daniel Goleman, entitled Social Intelligence, appeared shortly after our program launched, under its original name of the "Program on Social Intelligence."

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Why is Leadership discussed more than in the past?

The new urgency in teaching leadership comes from the changes in the business world. Our students used to climb the internal career ladder within a firm, guided by their HR department.  Nowadays careers move across firms and managing a career requires personal leadership. The faster, decentralized nature of modern firms means that leading others is also required earlier in one’s career. The enlarged global talent pool described by Thomas Friedman (2005) in The World Is Flat means that our students cannot rely on technical skills for career advantage. They will succeed or fail to the degree that they are able to motivate, empower, and lead colleagues and partners around the globe.

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Is Columbia a center for Leadership research?

It is no coincidence that the campus where the concept of social intelligence was born is also playing a leading role in its renaissance. From Thorndike’s day to the present, Columbia has been place where psychology research meets real-world problems, particularly those posed by urban, cosmopolitan life. The importance of social intelligence may be easier to appreciate in New York, given that it is a center of relationship-based professions, such as investment banking, and that it is a diverse community constantly recharged with fresh waves of immigration.

Columbia Business School has built a uniquely strong group of research psychologists. A number of faculty members are jointly appointed at the University’s psychology department. An area of emerging strength, together with the Columbia psychology department, is neuroscience studies of decision making and social judgment. Lastly, Teachers College has strong programs in more applied fields relevant to social intelligence, such as the training of executive coaches.

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