Accelerate Leadership Center Enhances Standard B-School Leadership Coaching

Empathy-based programming prepares future business leaders for the demands of an evolving workplace

Today’s business leaders are expected to possess the technical skills required both to compete in, and to shape the future of, the global economy.

But in a society that is evolving to expect more inclusive and diverse attitudes, they must also be able to cultivate a workplace environment that supports the personal and professional growth of all its employees. The Tepper School of Business is preparing future leaders to foster an empathetic corporate culture in order to retain talented employees and build diverse teams that can address complex, multifaceted issues facing business and society.

The Accelerate Leadership Center has launched a program designed to supplement the robust analytical education of the Tepper School of Business with a series of interdisciplinary activities focused on developing empathy, ethical judgment, critical thinking and cultural sensitivity. SHIFT is an elective component to the required MBA leadership development curriculum and incorporates art, design, literature and theater alongside management and communication coaching.

“In our global economy, we need business leaders who can understand diverse points of view and recognize how their decisions reverberate through our interconnected world,” said Leanne Meyer, Executive Director of the Accelerate Leadership Center. “We are infusing empathy into the heart of leadership training at the Tepper School for our MBA students so that they develop a natural and instinctual reflex to try to understand another person’s point of view when they face a challenge in the workplace.”

SHIFT Programming is supported through the generosity of Robert and Cindy Citrone, philanthropists whose son, Nick, graduated from the Tepper School’s Undergraduate Business Administration Program in 2016.

“The Tepper School experience is rooted in our community of individuals who are able to work across disciplinary, functional, and cultural boundaries to find innovative solutions to complex business problems,” Dean Robert Dammon said. “The SHIFT Programming is coming at an exciting time for the Tepper School. The Tepper Quad has enabled us to expand our academic offerings, particularly those that are interdisciplinary in nature. This new program demonstrates why cross-disciplinary collaborations are so vital for a world-class business education.”

Immersive Leadership Training

A key element of the SHIFT Programming is the Leadership Touchpoint Series. These interactive seminars invite participants to immerse themselves in leadership concepts geared toward improving empathy, self-awareness, and cultural literacy. Each session invites stakeholders from multiple disciplines to facilitate a 90-minute workshop to enrich these competency areas.

The first of these workshops took place in fall 2018 at the Tepper Quad. Introducing Design Thinking for Empathic Business Practice, led by Carnegie Mellon University design faculty members Mark Baskinger and Bruce Hanington, highlighted how incorporating strategies from visual design – putting yourself in the end-user’s shoes when considering how to design a product – can inspire more human-centered innovations across industries. Additional workshops in the series involve such multifarious fields as improvisational theater, art, poetry, writing, and virtual reality simulated intercultural communications.

Another planned series is Decisions That Matter: Constructive Conversations. In the context of multidimensional challenges in the workplace — concerning gender and racial parity, sexual harassment, or sustainability, for example — many leaders seek out opportunities to develop confident and compassionate strategies to facilitate ethical resolutions.

Multicultural Experiences

The SHIFT Programming is intended to go beyond workshops and training, however. One significant component is Tepper Reads, a reading project conceived to help create a sense of community, and develop empathy in, the Tepper student body. Through reading, the oldest and most reliable form of virtual reality, we intend to encourage students to see the world through the eyes of the story’s characters. Our goal is to get as many students as possible to read the same work of literature together over the course of a year, with the project culminating in an author visit and discussion.

Also kicking off this February will be Emergence, an art installation series in the MBA Commons at the Tepper Quad. Each semester, the Accelerate Leadership Center will work with an installation artist to develop an exhibit that is meant to provoke in attendees a greater awareness of self, of others, and of the larger world. Each exhibit will be accompanied by a set of discussion questions to engage viewers and encourage them to consider the artwork in new and analytical ways

Beyond these scheduled series, SHIFT Programming will also include informal opportunities for students to connect with each other and with alumni, faculty, and staff through regular coffee chats and social dinners. These kinds of engagements will allow students to build connections outside their immediate peer groups and gain new insights about different cultural experiences.

“We quietly launched the first few workshops to gauge our MBAs’ reaction and receptivity,” says Meyer. “My team and I knew that this type of programming would be beneficial for our MBAs, but we were surprised that each event registration was oversold. We had to create waitlists for students who wanted to join! Clearly this programming is in line with what MBAs are hungry to learn.”

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Jonathan Stern
Tepper School of Business
Associate Dean for Advancement