For the last decade, Linda E. Ginzel has been teaching Executive MBA students how to form their own definitions of leadership. In 2018, she published the Choosing Leadership workbook, a vehicle to help everyone from high-level executives to high-school students develop their leadership skills and potential.
“It’s not a book that gives you a leader to emulate,” she said on its publication. “It’s not a book you’re supposed to swallow whole, or put on your shelf. It’s a book you’re supposed to do.”
Now, on the eve of teaching her capstone Executive MBA Leadership Capital course, the clinical professor of managerial psychology is continuing to figure out ways to teach leadership to a younger audience. Her new endeavor is Leadership Is…, an adaptation of one of her workbook’s exercises that will help engage parents and their children in a dialogue around what it means to lead.
We sat down with Ginzel to discuss the community effort that brought this Little Champions picture book together.
Chicago Booth: How did the children’s book come to be?
Ginzel: Last spring, I was teaching my Executive MBA students in Asia over Zoom from 1:30 to 4:30 a.m. I decided to do open office hours after class, and so many students stayed. It was afternoon in Hong Kong, and their children were coming home, sitting on their laps. I know these students because I’ve taught almost all of them before. Being a mom is a big part of my identity; I love kids. I saw the daughter of one of the students and asked, “Stella, are you helping your mom with her homework?” She held up Choosing Leadership, and I thought, these kids need a book of their own.
Dennis Choi, ’21 (AXP-20), was also in my Zoom classroom. I had signed a book for his son when I was in Hong Kong the year before, so I asked his son, Chun Yin, what he thought about the book. Dennis said, “I’m going to save it until he’s 15.” The kid is three! I said, “Give it to him now. Let him eat it. Let him put it in his mouth.” It sunk in then that I needed a book for these kids that they can look at and learn from while their parents are taking my course.
Booth: Why is it so important for kids to have access to these lessons?
Ginzel: Another EMBA student, Lino Lee ’21, (AXP-20), is the CEO and founder of a preschool in Seoul, South Korea. During office hours, he asked what I thought was the most important thing to teach preschool children about leadership. At first, I didn’t know how to answer his question. Then I thought, “Stereotypes. We have to start countering leadership stereotypes younger.”
The whole reason I started teaching leadership in this way is that people have these stereotypic notions of what a leader is and looks like. “I don’t have a title. I’m not male. I’m too young. I’m not tall. I’m not an extrovert.” I’m talking about accomplished MBA students who tell me, “I haven’t had an opportunity to lead yet.” And I’m thinking, “How do they define leadership if my students don’t think they’ve had a chance to lead yet?”
Choosing Leadership is about developing your own definition of leadership. You can make a choice to lead any time. You don’t need a special credential or fancy title. People have stereotypes that a leader should be a certain type of person, say, gray-haired visionaries. But that’s very inhibiting. I’m trying to help people understand that leading is a behavior and there are many ways to lead. It’s the perfect lesson for children. What’s more important: the head or the heart, the sun or the moon? Neither, of course—both are necessary in different ways. Sometimes we need to manage, and sometimes to lead.
“My mantra is ‘wiser, younger.’ You are never going to be younger than you are today, but you can be wiser tomorrow. The earlier we break stereotypes, the better: these students can understand from an earlier age that they’re capable of choosing to lead every day.”
Booth: How have you begun introducing these lessons to younger students?
Ginzel: I’m working with the Trott Emerging Rural Leaders program. It’s a summer program for high-school students who come to the University of Chicago and learn what it would mean to go to college in the city.
Do you know what percentage of college students at UChicago are from nonurban settings? Marjorie Betley, director of the Trott program, shared with me that when Byron Trott, AB ’81, MBA ’82, started this program, it was 2 percent. But around 40 percent of high school students who participated in this program ended up matriculating here as college students, including many who had never even considered applying to a school like UChicago before their summer experience. Bringing rural kids to a summer program here can have a big impact. These students use Choosing Leadership in this program and write their “This I Believe” prompt as practice for their college essay.
My mantra is “wiser, younger.” You are never going to be younger than you are today, but you can be wiser tomorrow. The earlier we break stereotypes, the better: these students can understand from an earlier age that they’re capable of choosing to lead every day.
Booth: How did the book come together?
Ginzel: It’s really a story about community building. So many people have helped me with this project.
I introduced a new, undergraduate course called Choosing Leadership in 2021. As part of the coursework, teams of students choose a movie, decide what leadership themes are most relevant, and create a written framework that captures those themes. Then, they teach a 30-minute interactive lesson and receive peer feedback.
These students are all so creative. And last year one of the movie teams had beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by Katie Harris, AB ’21, LAB ’14, who is now a junior policy advisor at the US Treasury Department. So when I started putting this book together, I reached out to her, and she created the wonderful illustrations for this children’s book.
My research assistant, UChicago student Katelyn Wang, is managing this project. She filed for the copyright for me. I have it framed in my office now. Katelyn and I are working together to make this little book available to download as a free PDF.
It’s a family and friends project with volunteer translators making multi-lingual versions. Shirley Xu, ’21 (AXP-20), did the first two translations in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese. My husband did the literary Arabic translation. My sons helped with French, Hebrew, and Spanish. Alumni, students, and friends are currently translating it into a host of other languages—from Marathi to Urdu to Vietnamese.
Booth: What do you hope will result from this book?
Ginzel: I would love for my students to enjoy this picture book with the children in their lives. Let children tell you why the moon is leading and the sun is managing. You will be surprised by how interesting and creative they are. Or just let them talk about the moon and the sun, and an insight about what it means to lead might arrive later. Mainly, just have fun learning what a young mind dreams up about the contrasting pictures. Let them lead the way, and you can just try and manage the situation.
What started as an idea during open office hours last spring has become a community effort to change the global conversation around leadership for young children. My goal is to help the next generation employ their own definitions of leadership and counter stereotypes about leadership. This is my way to reach outside my classroom and help everyone be wiser, younger.