Tony Mayo is the Thomas S. Murphy Senior Lecturer of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit of Harvard Business School (HBS). He currently teaches FIELD, Field Immersion and Experiential Leadership Development, a new required experiential, field-based course in the first year of the MBA Program. Previously, he co-created and taught the course, “Great Business Leaders: The Importance of Contextual Intelligence.” In addition, Tony teaches extensively in leadership-based executive education programs. He is the co-author of In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century, which has been translated into five languages. He is also the co-author of Paths to Power: How Insiders and Outsiders Shaped American Business Leadership and Entrepreneurs, Managers and Leaders: What the Airline Industry Can Teach Us About Leadership. These books have been derived from the development of the Great American Business Leaders database that Dean Nitin Nohria and Tony created. [Please click here to check it out.] As Director of the Leadership Initiative, Tony oversees several comprehensive research projects on leadership and manages a number of executive education programs on leadership development. He was a co-creator of the High Potentials Leadership Development, Leadership for Senior Executives, and Leadership Best Practices programs. He created and oversees the executive coaching component of Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing In Their Time, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your professional development?
Mayo: Two individuals had a strong impact on my professional development – a senior manager at Epsilon, one of the firms that I worked at after graduating from Harvard Business School, and Nitin Nohria, my co-author and current Dean of Harvard Business School. Both allowed me to take a number of risks and both challenged me beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving. I thrive in an environment that is highly challenging but supportive of learning and development. Both individuals created the context in which I could stretch myself.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.
Mayo: The turning point came when I approached a former professor at Boston College to write a letter of recommendation for me for an evening-based master’s in technology management program in the mid-1980s. When I approached Professor Bowditch to write the letter of recommendation for me, he refused. He told me to come back with a letter for Harvard or MIT or Dartmouth. He saw something in me that I did not see in myself. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and the thought of a top-tier graduate program was never something I even remotely considered. Though I was disappointed and confused by his reaction, I researched different programs and returned to him with an application to Harvard Business School. That one action changed the trajectory of my career. It is something that I try to do myself when I work with young, promising students; I try to help them see their full potential.
Morris: What is the Leadership Initiative and what are its major objectives?
Mayo: Chaired by Professor Linda Hill, the Harvard Business School Leadership Initiative was organized to be a catalyst for research on leaders and leadership and to design effective leadership development programs that are relevant for the 21st century. The goal of the Initiative is to support Harvard Business School’s overarching mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. To that end, we search for opportunities to contribute to the study of leadership and the development of content for the MBA Program and various executive education offerings. Throughout our work, we seek to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of leadership.
Morris: To what extent (if any) has its mission changed since it was founded?
Mayo: Our mission has been relatively consistent in the decade since the Leadership Initiative was founded. If anything, the need for leadership at all levels in organizations has expanded and we need to find ways to tap into the leadership potential that exists in each individual. The increasing globalization of the workforce and the pressures from the global economic crisis have only heightened the need for well-reasoned, thoughtful leadership.
Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that business leaders will face during (let’s say) the next 3-5 years? Any advice?
Mayo: Leaders have always faced the challenge of inspiring others while making important strategic decisions for their organizations with limited, conflicting, and ambiguous information. A leader’s success or failure is often dependent on his or her ability to accurately interpret, analyze, and process this information in a constrained time frame. Today’s leaders are confronted with challenges and opportunities that are more dynamic and complex than ever before. Leaders need to understand how to harness technological advances, manage and lead a dispersed and diverse workforce, anticipate and react to constant competitive and geopolitical change and uncertainty, compete on a global scale, and operate in a socially responsible and accountable manner. Leadership is a team sport, and no one individual can do it all. Effective leaders build their self-awareness and hire individuals who can complement their skills
Morris: In which specific area of M.B.A. programs now offered by the most prestigious business schools is there the greatest need for immediate improvement? Please explain.
Mayo: When HBS celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008, it was an opportune time to reassess our model of MBA education. To that end, Professors Skrikant Datar and David Garvin embarked on a major review and evaluation of MBA programs. Their book, Rethinking the MBA, highlighted three primary areas that leading MBA programs should address in helping their students prepare for leadership positions in the future. The three areas include leadership, globalization, and integration. HBS embraced their recommendations and has launched a new required course called FIELD, Field Immersion and Experiential Leadership Development, which encompasses these three areas with a primary focus on field-based experiential work. For instance, all Harvard MBAs will be required to participate in a global immersion where they will work with a company in an emerging economy. To truly develop as a leader, one must learn about the phenomenon (that is where cases and books do a great job), but it is even more important that one experiences being a leader (that is where experiential exercises come into play). More and more, MBA programs are combining theoretical lessons with practical leadership experiences.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Tony Mayo invites you to check out the resources at the HBS Leadership Initiative: by clicking here.