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Business Officer Magazine
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An Innovative Way to Develop Leadership Skills

In a highly interactive featured session, "Building Consensus Through Guided Case Study Discussions," Brent Ruben demonstrated how case studies can be powerful tools in developing and enhancing strategic leadership capabilities and in organizational development.

According to the traditional view, outstanding leadership is provided by individuals who have superior technical, disciplinary, and job-specific knowledge and skills, said Ruben, executive director of the Center for Organizational Development and Leadership at Rutgers University, New Jersey. But on-the-ground leadership challenges are complex, dynamic, nuanced, moving targets—not amenable to a cookbook approach. Leaders have to be strategic: visionary, goal-oriented, able to conduct spreadsheet analysis on the run, sensitive to feedback, quick to make adjustments, and adept at communication planning and execution.

That's where case studies can help. They promote analytical thinking and build skills in naming and solving problems. They help people focus on real issues with low risk and minimal consequences. To demonstrate how they can be used, Ruben asked attendees to form groups and distributed among them three realistic but fictional case studies at imaginary institutions. Each group analyzed its case study, discussed strategies for addressing the problems described, and then shared the group's analysis with the entire audience.

This approach can be used in real-life scenarios to promote collaboration and develop consensus on effective approaches to problem solving, Ruben said. He outlined these steps:

  • Choose a case that's simple but with multifaceted issues.
  • Provide time for reading and personal reflection before discussion.
  • Give clear instructions and time checks.
  • Allow sufficient time for discussion, but not boredom and overanalysis.
  • Debrief thoroughly and fairly.
  • Prepare your closure in advance

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