New book from Michigan Ross prof. reveals leadership insights from top business professors

January 3, 2022

Lessons in leadership from some of the country’s top business school professors form the core of a new book by Ross School of Business Professor Emeritus George Siedel.

George Siedel

Seven Essentials for Business Success: Lessons from Legendary Professors discusses the best practices these professors use in teaching key areas of business: accounting, business law, finance, management, marketing, operations, and strategy. Each chapter focuses on one professor — including Professor Gretchen Spreitzer from Michigan Ross — revealing their successes and failures, inspiration, teaching methods, and even their daily schedules.

“Teaching is an important skill for business leaders, just as leadership is the mark of a successful teacher,” Siedel writes in the preface to the book. “If you are a leader or a traditional classroom teacher, this book will provide an opportunity to improve your teaching skills.”

Siedel recently answered a few questions about the book:

How did you come up with the core concept of the book — leadership lessons as modeled by professors from the seven key areas of business?

Siedel: Leading researchers have concluded that, in the words of my Ross colleague Noel Tichy, the “essence of leadership is not commanding, but teaching.” Early in my research, I realized that the legendary professors profiled in the book are role models not only for faculty interested in improving their teaching skills, but also for leaders and for those who aspire to leadership positions.

In the book, you explain the careful process you used to select the seven highlighted professors. Why was it important to bring that structure to your selections?

Siedel: Explaining the structured process was important to show that my selection of the professors was not random or biased. Because this project involved a multi-year investment of my time, I wanted to ensure at the outset that I had selected teaching legends from schools with faculty members who are especially well known for teaching the seven key business functions. The schools and the matching functions are Chicago (finance), Harvard (strategy), Michigan (management), MIT (operations), Northwestern (marketing), Stanford (accounting), and Wharton (business law).

Did you find anything surprising in what the individual professors had to say?

Siedel: At the outset of my research, I anticipated that the legendary professors would be outstanding performers adept at sharing their wisdom in an entertaining manner. I discovered instead that their success is based primarily on the use of six practices that business leaders and professors can adopt. Given the accolades and many teaching awards the professors have received, I was most surprised by their genuine modesty, which became apparent during my extended conversations with them.

In the chapter on management with Michigan Ross Professor Gretchen Spreitzer, she says what she likes most about teaching is learning from the students. How would you answer that question yourself?

Siedel: I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Spreitzer. Teaching should be a learning process for both teachers and students. Students co-create the learning experience through simulations and case discussions that enhance the latest research as it applies to the constantly changing business environment.

You note that Professor Spreitzer has been an important contributor to the developing field of positive organizational scholarship. How important is this field to business today and in the future?

Siedel: Operating at the intersection of science and practice, researchers in the field of positive organizational scholarship encourage leaders to adopt principles that enable their organizations to thrive. As noted by Wayne Baker, faculty co-director of the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross, “Organizations as varied as the Cleveland Cavaliers, General Motors, Google, the National Intelligence Agencies, and Oracle have invested in and are applying positive principles based on our work.”

The chapter on Professor Spreitzer closes with four key lessons from her research — things that great teachers do. Did any one of those particularly resonate with you, and if so, which one and why?

Siedel: Great leaders and teachers constantly learn from others but they also, in Professor Spreitzer’s words, “find their own path.” This lesson is especially important today because it helps us remain focused on what we think is important in a world saturated with social media. In a graduation address, Professor Spreitzer elaborated by quoting Steve Jobs, who emphasized that “our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

Your final chapter identifies six themes that emerged from your research, along with one critical characteristic that can apply to business leaders as well as teachers: authenticity. Why is this so important? How can leaders cultivate it?

Siedel: The six key practices are necessary, but not sufficient for those who want to become a successful leader and teacher. They also need to cultivate authenticity. In the words of profound educator Parker Palmer, this is the “secret hidden in plain sight: Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique: good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (his emphasis). I found that the elements that can lead to authentic leadership include a passion for your work, a deep concern for associates, a dedication to continuous learning, and a focus on a higher purpose that benefits society at large.

Aside from the importance of authenticity, what would be the most important take-away for readers of this book?

Siedel: Chris Christensen, a legendary professor from an earlier era who encouraged me to write the book, once observed: “Teaching is the greatest of all vocations because it allows you to combine the momentary and the infinite.” Stated another way, as a leader you have a wonderful opportunity to use the practices described in the book to teach the values and knowledge needed for the current success of your organization while you also build a foundation for the future.

Have you changed anything about your own approach to teaching or business as a result of researching and writing the book?

Siedel: My research has encouraged me to try several specific practices used by the legendary professors. For example, they emphasize the importance of enhancing the learning experience through the use of stories and examples. I especially like a structured approach adapted by one of them from his work as a consultant for McKinsey. This approach enables teachers to be systematic when creating a story that can even depict the arc of an entire course.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the book?

Siedel: An early chapter in the book summarizes the contents of seven core courses at leading business schools. Because these courses focus on the key business functions, the chapter in effect provides a checklist of the common body of knowledge needed for a fundamental understanding of business and its environment.

This article was originally published as a Ross News Blog post.