Advice for Harvard Business School’s Next Leader

Why the new dean, Nitin Nohria, needs to stay focused on the “people realities” of the job.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What advice do you have for your successor at HBS?

Jay Light: One is the need for focus.  There is an enormous number of dimensions in which one could try to take an organization like this in the modern world and it is important to decide which of those are the most important and to really try to focus these organization on those rather than trying to do 42 different things at the same time, so I think focus is really key.  Also, I think one has to really pay attention to what I might call the people realities of trying to get an organization like a university to move in new and different directions.  I think our ability to attract outstanding students is assured.  What is less   assured is how do we build and maintain and develop and change a faculty and staff, a set of people who can provide the different ways of thinking about education and providing education?  That is the people side of things that always turns out to be the hardest part of things in almost everything one does in life, but it’s particularly true in a university where in fact the faculty and staff are very independent and should be independent and we want them to be independent, but at the same time they’re all doing their own thing if you will.  We have to figure out a way to make their own thing, what they really want to do with their lives correspond to the same strategic directions that the leader would like to lead.  That is an enormous challenge and one that every dean and every university president has to take on.  

Question:
What have you learned in your role as dean?

Jay Light: what I have tried to do is develop this organization and to lead it through what has been frankly a somewhat difficult period with the financial and economic crisis and leave it positioned so that there are a number of decisions that can be made here to lead pretty strongly in new and different directions on issues like leadership, on issues like becoming a more global educational institution and I think we are in fact well equipped to do that.  I think we’ve got a sound financial situation.  I think we know what the alternatives are.  I think we have in place some people management systems that will allow us to grow and build the faculty, so what I’ve tried to do is bring it through what has been frankly a difficult period into a period where we in fact have once again resumed thinking about this organization as a growth organization going forward.

Recorded May 19, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman