Axelrod uses case studies in class to demonstrate how past crises might have been averted or differently handled had effective leadership principles been in place prior to the calamitous event. Taking the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster as an example, he notes that there were Morton Thiokol and NASA employees who had voiced relevant concerns before the launch whose voices were not heard, while others had remained silent out of fear.
“So, in addition to the content and information students take from the class, they learn about themselves too. They’ll finish with a sense of who they are as leaders, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and the concrete steps they’ll need to take in order to improve.”
“An essential challenge all leaders have to face involves creating an environment in which people can feel safe to speak their minds,” Axelrod says. “People also need to believe their concerns will be heard and taken seriously. This sort of confidence is something leaders can instill through demonstrating their own interest in learning and being influenced by what others bring to the table.”
It is a skill Axelrod brings to the classroom when teaching Crisis Leadership and Management, where he encourages high levels of participation and lots of discussion. Students share lessons from their own lives both to enrich the classroom experience and also as a way to learn about their own leadership approaches. As an example of the latter, students use a psychometric instrument to give them insight into the types of leaders they are and why they work well with some people and not so well with others. These are lessons they then put directly into practice while carrying out a group project that serves as the course’s backbone.
“So, in addition to the content and information students take from the class, they learn about themselves too,” Axelrod says. “They’ll finish with a sense of who they are as leaders, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and the concrete steps they’ll need to take in order to improve.”