Duke Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding Defines Leadership in the New World | TopMBA.com

Duke Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding Defines Leadership in the New World

By Francesca Di

Updated Updated


The term leadership is thrown around when educators talk about top MBA programs, but the concept needs closer observation. In recent years, the type of leader organizations need has drastically changed, demonstrating it’s a world that keeps evolving.

Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke University Fuqua School of Business says, “The leaders of the past were used to a hierarchical structure, they thought of themselves as the smartest person in the room. The reality is today you need great teams, and great teams require great individuals.”

Who is a leader?

In other words, leaders need to bring out the best in people and maximize the strength in the differences of individuals, he adds. Most importantly, today’s leaders must unite the team with a common purpose.

Bolding says, “A diverse team always beats a homogenous team if everyone feels he or she belongs and has a shared goal.”

Who will be tomorrow’s leader?

Boulding argues intelligence isn’t enough anymore. He says to form teams, leaders need emotional intelligence or EQ and what he calls DQ – decency quotient meaning they must be nice.  

“The leader of the future needs an incredible combination of IQ, EQ, and DQ”, says Boulding, who’s also Chair of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

Historically, as Boulding explains, business schools have easily identified MBA students with great intelligence, but they haven’t always done a good job finding those with high EQ and DQ, he admits.

“I tell applicants, ‘At the age you come to Duke for graduate school, we can’t teach you to care,” says Boulding. “We must detect these traits during admissions. We work hard at getting the right people in the game.”

Where does the responsibility of business schools lie?

At Fuqua, students are provided repeated experiences working with people of different demographics, backgrounds, origins, and industries.

“We take very seriously the idea that you need to put people in team settings”, says Boulding. “They learn to relate to each other and move toward a common goal”.

Uncertainty complicates matters

With palpable and obvious divisiveness in the US and around the world, Boulding says today’s leaders must understand what’s happening in the news too.

He says, “The world of business and politics is no longer separate, you must understand what’s happening in politics.”

Citing school shootings, the Charlottesville protests, and other happenings, Boulding says the public expects leaders to take a position on these issues. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle make it impossible to hide from the headlines. Not taking a position, he warns, means you’re taking a position in many instances.  

In the school’s strategy course on business and politics, students are trained to think on such matters and formulate responses. They must weigh the interests of different stakeholders, their personal values, and those of the company.

“Many CEOs have made choices that got them in hot water”, says Boulding. “We don’t tell them what position to take, but we help them learn to make decisions about their position to overcome divisiveness and keep the team on track.”

Finding your moral compass

Leaders today also face ethical dilemmas related to greater society. As the #MeToo Movement came to light, organizations began to reconsider their cultures and how they do business. Aside from wanting to ensure the safety and security of employees and anyone who comes into the office, leaders had to re-think gender equity in promotions, pay, and representation. But Fuqua had been thinking about these issues since 2014.

Embracing diversity

At that time, Boulding had joined other business school deans to formally adopt practices to develop leaders who’d support working families. The idea came as a result of a meeting and more than a year of work with the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Council of Economic Advisors under then-President Barack Obama’s administration. The group hoped to help transform the workforce in America.  

One of the aspects of this reinvigorated Women’s Movement that Boulding wants to stress is to avoid putting the onus on women alone to make change. This is just one of the matters raised in Fuqua’s course on gender and leadership.

“Gender issues relate to all genders”, he says. Men must be part of the solution too.

Navigating the rough waters of advanced technology

The speed at which technology is taking off is a logistical, financial, and physical challenge for organizations, but it poses moral quandaries too.

For example, Fuqua has a blockchain course, a result of wanting to explore innovation and remain relevant, but through the course, students can see the role of technology has been shifting. They think through what it means to have a world with big data and artificial intelligence.

It’s the job of the business school to prepare MBA students for the future, says Boulding.

“As the world changes, businesses require innovation”, he adds. “What do you need to drive innovation? The leaders in Silicon Valley say the limiting factor isn’t technology. They say the limiting factor to innovation is human capability and leadership.”

As a result, Boulding is certain the humans are here to stay, and says the contingencies in life mean businesses will need judgment. Certainly, good judgment is a necessity for great leaders.

Boulding turns to the advice of the famous Duke basketball legend Mike Krzyzewski, known as Coach K, who told him he didn’t have “rules” but rather “standards” for his players.

Ultimately, leadership doesn’t go out of style, nor could it ever be rendered obsolete.

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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