Ethan S. Bernstein

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Ethan Bernstein is an Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. He teaches the first-year MBA course in Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and a PhD course on the craft of field research. His teaching and research address topics related to leadership, collaboration, teamwork, design thinking, and learning in organizations.

Professor Bernstein’s work has been published in journals including Administrative Science QuarterlyResearch on Organizational Change and Development, and the Cornell Law Review, and it has appeared in The Washington PostThe Boston Globe, NPR, Forbes, MSNBC’s Bottom LineYahoo! FinanceInc.Esquire, United Hemispheres, and TEDx Boston, among others. His research has won awards including the Academy of Management’s 2013 Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior award, the Academy of Management’s 2013 Best Publication in Organization and Management Theory award, 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association, the HBS Wyss Award, and the Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award.

Ethan Bernstein is an Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. He teaches the first-year MBA course in Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and a PhD course on the craft of field research. His teaching and research address topics related to leadership, collaboration, teamwork, design thinking, and learning in organizations.

Professor Bernstein’s work has been published in journals including Administrative Science QuarterlyResearch on Organizational Change and Development, and the Cornell Law Review, and it has appeared in The Washington PostThe Boston Globe, NPR, Forbes, MSNBC’s Bottom LineYahoo! FinanceInc.EsquireUnited Hemispheres, and TEDx Boston, among others. His research has won awards including the Academy of Management’s 2013 Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior award, the Academy of Management’s 2013 Best Publication in Organization and Management Theory award, 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association, the HBS Wyss Award, and the Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award.

In his current research, Professor Bernstein examines how, and under what conditions, privacy makes groups more productive—and specifically how the sharing of information across and within boundaries affects learning, innovation, and organizational performance. In a world obsessed with transparency, his findings suggest that boundaries may sometimes provide unanticipated benefits and be an underutilized managerial performance lever. Put differently, attention matters for performance, and boundaries can be strategically important in directing it. 

Professor Bernstein earned his doctorate in management at Harvard, where he also received a JD/MBA degree. While a doctoral student, he was a Kauffman Foundation Fellow in Law, Innovation, and Growth, and he remains a member of the New York and Massachusetts Bar Associations. He holds an AB in Economics from Amherst College, which included study at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

Prior to joining the faculty, Professor Bernstein spent a half-decade at The Boston Consulting Group in Toronto and Tokyo. Tapped by Elizabeth Warren to join the implementation team at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he spent nearly two years in executive positions, including Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy Assistant Director of Mortgage Markets, at the newest United States federal agency.

In addition to his organizational behavior courses, Professor Bernstein has taught a wide range of topics and students, including Accounting and Finance in the HBS MBA Analytics program, Operations at the Samsung Premier Leadership Development Program, Economics at Harvard College, and the Business Leadership Program at HBS.

Professor Bernstein is a self-declared culinary adventurer and avid cyclist, runner, skier, reader, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me listener. Originally from Los Angeles, he lives in Newton with his wife, Maly (HBS MBA 2006), and young son.

  1. Overview

    by Ethan S. Bernstein

    Professor Bernstein teaches Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD). This course focuses on how managers become effective leaders by addressing the human side of enterprise.

    The course is divided into five modules:
    1. Leading Teams: In a world where most problems faced by organizations are too complex for a single individual to tackle alone, leadership frequently involves forming, mandating, and managing teams. And yet teams are fickle. Even as teams become more and more common at all levels of organizations, a shocking number of them fail to live up to their potential or even deliver at all. Small differences in the leadership of teams can have large consequences for the success of their efforts. In six class sessions, we build an understanding of how leadership of team identity/design and team processes can significantly improve team effectiveness and the chances of becoming a high-performing team.
    2. Enhancing Interpersonal Effectiveness: Those in charge have always depended on others to get work done. This means building a network of effective work relationships. The segment begins by identifying the critical ingredients for building effective relationships with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates. We will look at various interpersonal relationships from different perspectives, including hierarchical, demographic, and cultural aspects, exploring the nuances of working with those from varied demographic backgrounds and the advantages and disadvantages of different communication and influence strategies. The aim of this segment is to enable managers to successfully build effective work relationships as they apply to managing in all directions.
    3. Leading, Designing, and Aligning Organizations: This module explores in depth what it takes to be an effective leader. This segment will also examine what it takes to achieve “congruence” among an organization's elements: its strategy, critical tasks, formal organization, people, and culture. We will study a number of leaders “in action” to gain insight into the critical functions and personal qualities that contribute to effective leadership. To be effective, the critical elements of an organization need to be in alignment.
    4. Leading Change: Leaders’ attempts to renew or change their organizations often fail. In this segment of the course we will compare and contrast efforts to transform organizations in order to identify critical stages and activities in the change process. We will identify different approaches for developing and communicating a vision for an organization and for motivating people to fulfill that vision. We address the following questions: What are the primary sources of resistance to change? What are the most appropriate ways for overcoming them? What change strategies “work” and under what conditions?
    5. Developing Your Path: In this final module, we will focus on several strategic issues involved in building a dynamic career, paying particular attention to early- and mid-career choices and dilemmas. We will consider the following topics: How do individuals learn to lead? What critical experiences and relationships are needed?

    The LEAD course has the following six goals:
    • The course offers a realistic preview of what it means to manage
    • The course helps students begin to transform professional identity from individual contributor to manager
    • The course helps students confront both the task learning and personal learning involved in becoming a manager
    • The course addresses the process of developing effective relationships with a diverse collection of individuals and groups
    • The course helps students develop an understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader
    • The course helps students learn how to be proactive and entrepreneurial in developing your leadership talents over the course of your career


    • Professor Bernstein takes particular joy in teaching LEAD as he was a student in the LEAD course in the fall of 2000 (Section D).

      Professor Bernstein also teaches a PhD seminar in the craft of field research.

    Keywords: Leadership; Leadership Development; Leadership Style; Innovation Leadership;