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HBS Says, “Yes, We Can”: New Dean Loves Words

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A weekly collection of thought-provoking articles on tech, innovation, and long-term investing from Nightview Capital’s Eric Markowitz.

This remarkable video was made by the new Dean of the Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria. It is Professor Nohria’s equivalent, in a way, of’s Yes, We Can, the video which, quickly becoming viral during the last Presidential election, moved the million-plus who saw it to say, Things Can Be Different. Like, Nohria uses the words of great leaders to remind us not only that words have always worked to raise emotions, but also that they have proven effective as concrete tools for change.

As Harvard’s President Drew Faust yesterday announced Nohria as the University’s choice, many HBS alums (and Harvard professors), may have been thinking something similar. This is what business needs now: someone to remind us that excellent management is not about the creation of a casino; it’s about the aspiration to lead. 

Nohria teaches in the Organizational Behavior department at the Business School; his full bio is impressive. Organizational Behavior is the academic term for “Leadership.” While “LEAD” classes are often considered softer than their more financially focused counterparts (Advanced Restructuring and Bond Math come to mind), HBS has consistently emphasized the importance of that curious word, “leadership,” and the fact that learning to lead is not primarily about learning to make magical spreadsheets. It is a subtler art.

This is not to say that one can run IBM—or Goldman Sachs, or the Ford Foundation, or America—on poetry alone, but the fact that this Business School has, in this unique time in the history of business and of business education, elected a scholar who teaches students to read Robert Caro, Ken Auletta, and Katharine Graham—this is notable. Nohria is known for his brilliance. He teaches a class called (with perhaps a bit of irony) “Power and Influence.” Said another way, How We Treat One Another.

As Lucy Prebble’s play Enron arrives on Broadway, our obsession with business leaders reaches a specific peak. Or, lull. They are entrenched in our culture. We are over the simple celebrations of them (R.I.P., Portfolio), and well into the cycle of unsubtle demonization. Time to move to the next phase. As was once done with lawyers, now let us do for “leaders:” forgive them their humanity. The finest among them have always understood the relevance of Organizational Behavior. Nohria urges a Hippocratic Oath for managers. If he ends up writing it, we trust it will be inspired.


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