What can b-school students learn in a theater class? Plenty, it seems, as a growing number of prestigious MBA programs are including alternative teaching tools such as acting, music, voice coaching and fine arts as an innovative way to boost leadership, communication and presentation skills.
IEDC-Bled School of Management in Slovenia has long been a champion of art as a tool in leadership development, the Financial Times reports. According to Danica Purg, the school’s president, having more than 200 works of art on display helps foster a creative environment that is essential for creative leadership. Here, art is both a tool for reflection and a critical part of life. “We want to be a school where we produce reflective and responsible managers who have a broader view of the world,” says Purg.
For the first time, MBA participants at IE Business School in Madrid kicked off their program with a two-week, interdisciplinary module designed to broaden their horizons beyond the parameters of general management. Students at the school have worked with actors and coaches from the Globe Theatre in London and with faculty from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.
David Bach, academic director of the international MBA program at IE and professor of strategy and economic environment, says “We do think it is important for pedagogical reasons to do something different. We need to create a little space for people, to really get people to open up and think more reflectively and critically.”
Acting lessons teach students how to master the non-academic qualities—teamwork, leadership and interpersonal skills—that employers and recruiters are looking for in potential managers. Such classes are cropping up on curriculums at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, which offers an acting elective where students are asked to write and perform their own plays; at Babson College, which has a class titled Acting Skills for Success in Business; and at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. MIT Sloan School of Management gives its “Leadership as Acting” class each fall during its innovation period, a week each semester in which MBAs are encouraged to hone their soft skills through experiential classes.
Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge in the UK has turned to music to draw parallels with the world of creative business teams, says the Financial Times. The Britten Sinfonia – a string trio – demonstrates how music, like a business team, is a collaborative process, and how the participants respond to verbal and non-verbal communication determines the success of the group.
Across the country, theater groups such as Improv Asylum in Boston, Bay Area Theater Sports in San Francisco, or The Groundlings in Los Angeles offer private workshops for corporations large and small to stimulate teamwork and creativity. Many of the skills taught in improv theater translate into making better crisis managers, since both improv actors and crisis managers must be able to think creatively and on their feet in a time crunch; accept input from teammates as relevant contributions; and focus on the task at hand while maintaining peripheral vision to catch new developments.
Leadership is all about performance, so if you need a little help in this department, shake off your stage fright and consider signing up for an acting class.
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