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Northwestern Professor Teaches Students How to Lead

By Jacob Nelson

For Northwestern Assistant Professor Gail Berger, good leadership comes from people who understand themselves as much as they understand their team.

Berger, who is teaching a spring course in MSLCE that focuses on developing key leadership skills, described how important it is for a good leader to have a keen perception for team dynamics. She plans to teach these skills to her students with a very experiential course that includes role playing and case studies.

“Experience is a great teacher,” Berger said, “but experience combined with candid feedback is one of the best teachers. You don’t get that in the real world.”

Berger would know. She’s worked both as an academic at Northwestern and as a consultant at a small boutique firm in Chicago since she completed her PhD at Kellogg in 2003.

“Keeping a door out in the real world is really helpful,” Berger said. “Academia informs work you can do with clients and work with client informs work with teaching and especially research.”

Berger will use these real life examples to help her students learn to navigate important negotiations, from salary talks to business projects.

“Many of the skills are transferrable regardless of what the industry is,” Berger said. “Negotiation skills are particularly important — mediation isn’t about winning, it’s about understanding needs and interests.”

Because she’s taught courses like this before, Berger is aware that negotiations can be tricky — and so attempts to teach it.

“It’s something that people aren’t typically comfortable doing… even though they know it would be helpful for them,” Berger said.

By making the class so experiential, Berger hopes to make her students more comfortable attempting the negotiations that will be important to them when they begin their professional pursuits.

“It’s a fun class because it’s interactive,” Berger said, “It just takes courage and practice.”