Authentic Leader Development - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Authentic Leader Development

Course Number 2090

Senior Lecturer Scott Snook
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
26 sessions

Professor Robin Ely
Senior Lecturer Anthony Mayo
Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
26 sessions

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 rigorous, theoretically-supported, 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 Leader 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 You 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 to it? 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 do I care so much about what others think of me?
  • 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.


  • Attend one 80-minute class each week for thirteen weeks on Tuesdays in assigned classrooms (please note exceptions for the first week and CPD).
  • Attend one, two-hour-long meeting per week with a six-person Leader Development Group (LDG). LDGs are held the afternoon of class between 3:30 and 5:30pm. Rotating facilitators are drawn from the group. LDGs will be assigned in advance by your professor with the intent of creating diverse groups.
  • Submit a reflective essay each week via Canvas. 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?

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 Outline

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 rigorous processes designed to support your continued growth and development throughout your life.

Here is the course outline for ALD:

Lesson 1: Authentic Leader Development

Lesson 2: Life Story

Lesson 3: Losing Your Way

Lesson 4: Crucibles

Lesson 5: Develop Your Self-Awareness

Lesson 6: Practice Your Values

Lesson 7: Difficult Conversations

Lesson 8: Find Your Sweet Spot

Lesson 9: Build Your Support Team

Lesson 10: Integrate Your Life

Lesson 11: Lead With Purpose

Lesson 12: Empower Others to Lead

Lesson 13: Final Class


  • Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York: Gotham, 2012.
  • George, B. with Sims, P. Discover Your True North. New Jersey: Wiley, 2015.
  • Craig, N., George, B.; & Snook, S. The Discover Your True North Fieldbook. New Jersey: Wiley, 2015.
  • Stone, D., Patton, B. and Heen, S. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

Students receive four books. The first of them, Discover Your True North, is the basic text for ALD. Chapters will be assigned throughout the course.

The second book is The Finding Your True North Fieldbook. Assignments in this workbook are related to chapters in the basic text and designed to personalize and deepen your understanding of that week’s topic. Students are expected to complete all assigned exercises in this workbook prior to attending class each week.

Selected chapters will be assigned from the books, Difficult Conversations and Daring Greatly.

Leader Development Groups (LDGs)

Prior to our second meeting, each student will be assigned to a six-person Leader Development Group (LDG). LDGs meet in designated classrooms from 3:30-5:30 pm each week on the same day as your class. LDG meetings are a central part of the course and as such are treated just like normal class time. Attendance is mandatory. Do not take ALD if you cannot commit to attending all 12 LDG sessions (there is no LDG meeting following Lesson 1).

The purpose of LDGs is to carve out an intimate and safe place to engage in a deeper discussion of that day’s topic with your peers. Each week, a different student will be assigned to facilitate that day’s session. Faculty will provide additional guidance in the form of suggested exercises and discussion questions to help facilitators prepare for and lead their groups.

Each student will have the opportunity to facilitate for two weeks during the course. Facilitators will meet briefly with their professor prior to the LDG to discuss that week’s meeting (typically just following each day’s class). An ALD “Facilitator’s Guide” will be posted on the course website and also sent out to you via email when it is your turn to facilitate. The Facilitator’s Guide will provide a helpful overview of your responsibilities as facilitator for the weeks that you are assigned to that role.

Following each LDG meeting, facilitators will submit a summary of the group’s discussion, including attendance records and open questions.

NOTE: Leader Development Groups (LDG) meet in assigned project rooms in Spangler, 2nd floor. Your group information and exact meeting location will be sent to you via email before your first LDG meeting. There will be no LDG meetings the first day of class.

Also, please note that the academic calendar creates some exceptions to the days you will be meeting for class time and LDG sessions; look for details on Canvas Course Schedule View.