Authentic Leader Development - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Authentic Leader Development

Course Number 2090

Senior Fellow Thomas DeLong
Senior Lecturer Scott Snook
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
28 sessions

Assistant Professor Lakshmi Ramarajan
Professor David A. Thomas (Retired)
Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
24 Sessions

Enrollment: Limited to 78 students per section

Course Purpose - Who should take this course?

The purpose of ALD is to help you become more effective, authentic individuals and leaders. We do this by carving out some sacred time and space in your busy lives to engage in a theoretically-supported, disciplined, meaningful conversation about who you are and the purpose of your leadership. This is a different kind of work. You cannot do it alone. Do not take this course unless you are open to sharing personal insights, experiences, ambitions, and fears both in class and in your Leadership Development Groups (LDGs).

ALD requires an unusually high degree of curiosity, reflection and interpersonal openness. You will be asked to think differently and explore new behaviors. We expect you to be absolutely honest with yourself and others. While few of our students are completely comfortable or sure about this type of work coming in, you must be at least open to experimenting with a different kind of learning. This is the bare minimum for joining ALD. Those who are not fully committed to investing in this course end up wasting their time. More importantly, they waste the valuable time and effort of others. We invite you to be "all in."

Why should I take this course?

If you spend time reflecting on some of the following challenges, you might consider taking ALD:

  • I am 26 years old; I have lived for my resume. I am proud of what I have accomplished, but is that really all there is? What do I live for now?
  • I seek public success and approval; my achievement masks deeper insecurities.
  • I need to appear "strong" and "perfect." I rarely open up or ask for help. These actions are signs of weakness to me.
  • Why do I obsess about my image?
  • Why am I afraid to tell you who I really am?
  • I obsess about status and money, but don't have the courage to pursue my personal passions. I'm not even sure anymore what they are.

Course Premise

In its simplest form, here is the theoretical premise for ALD:

To the extent that you have a clearer sense of:

who you are,

your life story,

your values & principles,

your motivations and passions,

your leadership purpose,

your True North.

When it comes time to lead you will be more likely to:

1) step up,
2) lead effectively, and
3) live a more integrated & meaningful life.

Course Goals

  1. Increase your self-awareness by engaging the "big questions" in life, with the goal of living with greater mindfulness and intentionality.
  2. Help you uncover personal patterns, decide which ones serve you well (accept and commit to them) and which ones don't (commit to changing them).
  3. Learn how to participate more fully in open, intimate small-group discussions. Learn how to "deeply listen" to others, to be "fully there" for them.
  4. Gain some clarity about your leadership purpose, values, and motivations, and the role these play when leading others.
  5. Become more honest (and comfortable) with yourself in all dimensions.
  6. Learn how to empower and inspire others.
  7. Be able to more fully imagine the reality of others.

Course Content

Drawing broadly from the fields of positive psychology, sociology, adult development, and leadership, you will be exposed to a powerful collection of theoretical frameworks and concepts all selected to support your progress in line with ALD Course Goals. Additionally, you will learn a set of foundational skills essential to the practice of authentic leadership. Finally, you will engage in several key processes designed to support your continued growth and development throughout your life.


  • Attend one 80-minute class each week for thirteen weeks on Tuesdays or Thursdays in assigned classrooms (please note the first week and exceptions during weeks when a holiday falls on these regular class days).
  • Attend one, two-hour-long meeting per week with a six-person Leadership Development Group (LDG). LDGs are held the afternoon of class between 3:30 and 5:30 pm. Rotating facilitators are drawn from the group. Groups will be assigned in advance by your professor with the intent of creating diverse groups.
  • Submit a reflective essay on-line each week using the Personal Reflection Tool (PRT). Reflections are due NLT midnight on the day following your class. Your reflection should be no less than one paragraph and no more than 2 pages double-spaced (think blog). This reflection is due even if you are the group facilitator that week.
  • In lieu of an exam, students will write a final paper on the purpose of their leadership, as well as complete and submit a Personal Leadership Development Plan (PLDP)..


There are three graded requirements:

  1. Class participation
  2. Weekly reflections
  3. Final Essay & Personal Leadership Development Plan (PLDP)

There is one simply overarching criterion for assessing performance in all three areas:

Are you "all in"? Are you deeply engaged in this different kind of work? Are you giving this your best shot?