Taking a Presidential Look at Leadership
Thomas Bateman MBA'77, DBA’79
Bank of America Chaired Professor and Management Area Coordinator McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia
“When I advise people about pursuing a PhD in management, I strongly urge them to check out IU because of the teaching and research experience.”
Professor Thomas Bateman engages his students in conversation about leadership with a familiar example: our nation’s president.
In his leadership course—the first course taken by students who wish to pursue a minor in leadership at the University of Virginia—Bateman teaches a Harvard case study called “Launching the War on Terrorism,” which describes President George W. Bush’s actions beginning on 9/11 and for the next several days as he and his team wrestled with how to respond. “It starts with Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispering in the president’s ear that America is under attack,” Bateman says, “and continues with a positive description of Bush’s actions culminating in the decision to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We use it as an example of a thorough and effective problem-solving process. But then we move forward to the Iraq war and talk about his mistakes.”
Although the topic lends itself to the possibility of a heated political debate, Bateman says that the discussion remains apolitical in his classroom. “I tell my students that if you’re a fan of Bush, you also need to look for his mistakes. If you’re not a fan, you need to see how he did certain things right.”
The topic resonates with students thanks to its rich examples—from Bush’s actions regarding Iraq to his response after Hurricane Katrina. “The examples are so vivid,” Bateman says, “that it really sinks in. It creates a critical eye but also an open-mindedness among students as they realize that every leader has strengths and weaknesses.”
Bateman also brings guest lecturers—including faculty members in other disciplines and a retired general—to the classroom frequently to broaden the discussion. Ultimately, he hopes his students learn models that they can apply to solve problems. Bateman doesn’t try to influence his student’s opinions of public policies; he primarily wants them to avoid forming opinions without thinking it through, and to understand and recognize good and poor leader performance.
Bateman, who’s been at the University of Virginia for eight years, has also worked at Tulane, Texas A & M, and University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, where he took a two-year leave of absence to teach at IMD in Switzerland, one of the world’s leading business schools. Though his main focus has always been organizational behavior, lately he’s specialized more on leadership, both in his teaching and research. He’s currently writing about leader competence and how it is too often neglected compared to the more common emphasis on leaders’ charisma, psychology, and interpersonal relationships.
He developed his research skills and work ethic at Kelley. “There was no question that it was and is one of the top schools in organizational behavior,” he says. “It trained me and instilled a research ethic that made me more productive."
“When I advise people about pursuing a PhD in management, I strongly urge them to check out IU because of the teaching and research experience. It helps people hit the ground running when they get their first jobs as assistant professors.”