Leaders-In-Action: Education.edu

Columbia University


One winter day in 1999, Thomas D. Zweifel sat down with Steven Cohen, vice dean of SIPA at Columbia University. ¨It’s curious. You say you are educating the global leaders of tomorrow,¨ Zweifel recalled saying to Dean Cohen. ¨But you don’t offer them a leadership class.¨ Instead of being ticked off, Dean Cohen said, ¨You are right. Why don’t you propose a syllabus.¨ Zweifel did. On February 22, 2000, he got a phone call from assistant dean Barbara Gombach. ¨We would like you to teach this leadership course.¨ That is when the problems began, because you cannot teach leadership by lecturing about it or having people read books about it. The only way one can learn leadership is in the action of leading. So how do you do that in an academic setting?

Communicate or DieCommunicate_or_Die_-_the_book.html
Leading Through Language.Communicate_or_Die_-_the_book.html
Culture ClashCulture_Clash_-_the_book.html
Manage Effectively Across Borders.Culture_Clash_-_the_book.html


On-the-Job Leadership Education


SIPA students usually bring three to five years of professional experience in the private or public sector to the party. They took Zweifel’s leadership course between 2000 and 2008. The class was unlike any other class. Following the Global Leader Pyramid™, students developed their self-awareness, powered their communication skills, and cast out long-term specific visions for their lives and for the next five years. At each level of the pyramid, they learned leadership theories like trait or style theory (are leadership characteristics like charisma in-born, or learned later in life, or learned in early childhood? Does leadership happen in the leader, or between leader and follower, or in the team?).

  1. Bringing a new product to market in record time;

  2. Persuading the senior management team to adopt a new idea/vision/policy;

  3. Producing a breakthrough result in sales;

  4. Financing and opening a new restaurant, and hiring and training the staff;

  5. Building a new nongovernmental organization (NGO) and raising $25,000 for its work;

  6. Persuading the governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to hold the Olympic Games in Jerusalem.

One thing led to another and Columbia took advantage of Coaching-In-Action for a senior executive. Rodrick Dial, director of alumni relations, used coaching to maximize alumni involvement (from 9% to 40% involvement), achieve a new level of funding scholarships for deserving students, empower the leadership of his colleagues, and ultimately leave a legacy and make a difference, even if it was not glamorous.


The achievement of a leadership course lies above all in who the students become and what they accomplish. Since taking the class, many students have moved into executive leadership positions in business or government. One is Sangay Wangchuk, a member of the Royal Family in Bhutan. Roy Wiesner became head of international private equity at Yuval Levy & Co. Glenn Sonntag became Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Anser Ali became Director at the National Policy Group of the Government of Pakistan. Hiroshi Ito became commander of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Jojo Zou became Finance TV Host at Guangdong Television.


“It’s all about leadership qualities and interactions,” says Abdul Hye, who works for the United Nations and enrolled in the course to learn leadership responsibilities. “He is very knowledgeable on global leadership, and I have learned how to work at the grassroots level.”

I feel that I have learned so much this semester—beyond what textbooks alone may teach,¨ wrote Heidi Philipsen. ¨I also feel very empowered to go out into this world and lead myself – even if I only do it step-by-step, in my own small way.¨

Here are examples of Leadership Breakthrough Projects students undertook:

A Thinking Partner 100% Committed to your Success.Coaching-In-Action.html
Build Leadership on the job.Leadership-In-Action.html

They studied cases of leaders from Steve Jobs to Carly Fiorina, from Winston Churchill to Mahatma Gandhi. They  practiced tools like how to manage conversations for results, how to detect the sub-text in a conversation, or how to decode the culture of another country. Then they built their strategies for achieving their vision, and set out for 100-day Leadership Breakthrough Projects with measurable, real-world goals to be reached during the semester.

I actually love this class – it’s teaching me much about what i had hoped to learn in coming back to school at this point in my life.  The breakthrough project - and the steps you recommend we take in thinking about it is wonderful! Françoise Jacobsohn

¨Leadership class is the most fun and effective class I have ever taken at Columbia.  I enjoyed it a lot.¨ JoJo Zou

¨The books Communicate or Die” and Culture Clash brought to light the importance of being aware of what is missing in relationships between people. I can recall being shocked at reading about my definition of multi-tasking (talking on the phone and checking email) and how I was not really listening at all.¨ Meenakshi Nankani

¨This course has been one of the most useful courses I have ever taken. (I am not exaggerating). I learned many things relating to the real life about influencing my environment and making a change.¨ Sakir Oruc

¨I feel that I learned tools in this class that I will be able to utilize for the rest of my life.¨ Kristi Schober

¨I thank you for this experience and this has been one of the greatest courses I have taken at SIPA. I hope it remains for future students for a long time.¨—Yoyce Jones

Three students grappling with the methodology

Happy ending: we survived!

THE leadership challenge: Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Yoyce Jones,


Alain Rivet’s Catalytic Project: ¨The man who dared reinvent the telecommunications world!!¨

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Books / Processes / Tools