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During a 57-year career at Booth, Harry L. Davis, the Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management, has fostered a community-focused culture centered around innovation, experimentation, and collaboration. His curiosity-driven leadership style has shaped the very mission of the school.

In 1992 Davis and colleague Robin M. Hogarth, PhD ’72, drafted the Action & Insight Framework. Their paper formed the foundation of The Chicago Approach to leadership: the idea that leaders need not only knowledge but the skills to take action and to learn from success and failure.

The Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, named in his honor, incubates innovations in education and managerial practice.

What are Booth’s strengths as a community—faculty, students, and staff?

One of our great strengths is our inherent curiosity and willingness to experiment and not simply accept received wisdom. I’ve pursued some ideas of questionable wisdom over the years, and while I’ve gotten some strange looks and a few discouraging words, no one has ever told me no. Our long tradition of respect for the individual is a great asset in a time of crisis, when we’ve had to work quickly to innovate.

“The faculty have been gathering on Zoom to discuss the unexpected transition to online learning. Silos have broken down on this topic, with all areas and ages talking together. The atmosphere is energetic, filled with sharing experiences and offers to help one another after the meeting.”

— Harry Davis

Have you noticed ways in which the Booth community has come together during the current COVID-19 crisis? 

In some ways, it’s made us more collaborative. I typically walk around Harper Center, seeing many office doors closed, with faculty working diligently on their research. But now the virtual doors are wide open. The faculty have been gathering on Zoom to discuss the unexpected transition to online learning. Silos have broken down on this topic, with all areas and ages talking together. The atmosphere is energetic, filled with sharing experiences and offers to help one another after the meeting. Our educational mission is being taken very seriously. Much of this transition has worked well because our students are also just as committed to shared success.

What other crises has the Booth community weathered together over the years?

In the late 1980s things were looking rather bleak for graduating MBAs and for the school: we were down in the rankings, and there was the perception that our students, while smart, lacked the skills necessary to translate their knowledge into actions with and through others. Rather than just grumble, a group of students and I came up with what is now the Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) program, which has had a significant impact and is now considered a key component of what makes Chicago Booth a pioneering MBA program.

What can a crisis teach us about leadership?

I’ve always believed, and taught, that leadership behaviors transcend far beyond those in the C-suite, and can and should be brought forth by everyone, regardless of rank, status, or position. The current crisis is a wonderful illustration of this. People much further down the chain of command are filling in the blank spots and performing in ways far beyond what’s contained in their formal job descriptions.

Crises also raise the question of whether leadership skills that were productive in “normal times” are still valid without any modification. Ultimately, it’s a matter of being agile in deploying one’s unique gifts and strengths in ways that match the situation.

In light of the pandemic, how do you hope Booth graduates will contribute when they go out into the world?

Our graduates and alumni do an enormous amount of good in the world, and I’m sure that will continue. I hope one thing we all remember is how much we can contribute as individuals. I’m fatigued by endless criticisms and complaints about others; it’s really about owning our own responsibilities to bring forth who we are in our finest moments. There’s no reason to wait to make a difference—and waiting isn’t necessarily something we can afford.

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