Cristiano Guarana is an assistant professor in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, teaching Leading Organizations in the Integrated Core 1—Understanding Markets and Institutions.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
My personal life mission is to “help people improve their lives via education.” I set this personal mission years before pursuing my Ph.D. In fact, my personal mission informed my decision of leaving Brazil, my home country, moving to the US, and becoming a professor. As a professor, I am paid to create and share knowledge, which is a humbling experience. Every day I learn new things, I meet new people, I talk about ideas, and I truly hope that students can apply what I teach in their jobs, in their lives. It is extremely rewarding when students email me months and even years later saying that they still apply the leadership lessons in their new positions. It is humbling to see that some students attribute their promotions and new positions to the knowledge they got in my class. Perhaps even more gratifying is also seeing that the knowledge I shared with the students is now cascading down the organizations and we are creating a better and healthier work environment for all. Needless to say, I am super proud of my students.
What can students expect from your Kelley Direct courses?
Students will learn that leadership can be developed. We all can become leaders if we put in the effort. Leading Organizations focuses on leadership behaviors that students can learn, practice, and see the outcomes of. We talk about behaviors related to becoming a leader (leadership emergence) and behaviors related to performing as a leader (leadership effectiveness). Specifically, we have a holistic view of leadership and discuss behaviors related to personal leadership, relational leadership, contextual leadership, inspirational leadership, supportive leadership, and ethical leadership. We also focus on developing critical thinkers and do a deep dive into cognitive biases and team-level biases. To achieve these goals, we engage in a variety of activities such as case analyses, video case analyses, and simulations. I hope the students leave my class thinking differently about leadership and how they can make a positive impact in their organizations.
How has COVID pushed you to teach in new ways?
I have been teaching Kelley Direct for a few years, so there was not much of a difference in how I taught the classes. However, COVID made me think more about the importance of compassion, and how my students’ lives got disrupted because of the new demands related to COVID. Compassion has three parts: noticing another person’s suffering, empathically feeling that person’s pain, and acting in a manner intended to ease the suffering. The main challenge to me was to be flexible and keep the rigor of a top MBA program. I worked even harder to create a safe environment so students could share their struggles, and we would work together to overcome their obstacles. I have always believed in customized care, listening to the students, but COVID showed that we need to be proactive and approach students when we see that they need help.
How do you find work-life balance? What do you tell your students about how best to manage their time to be successful?
I am honest with my students. There will be moments that you experience work-life imbalance. We are all trying to build our reputation, so there will be days, weeks, and even months, that our lives will be very unbalanced. However, long-term work-life balance is key for sustained performance. The main message here is that if you put pressure on yourself to find balance early on, you will create more stress for yourself. It is important to understand that we cannot have a myopic view of work-life balance. However, we also live in a society that confounds work quantity with work quality, and these are very different concepts. I encourage my students to really think about the important tasks and dimensions (work, parent, sibling, etc.) of their lives. Once we understand what are our core tasks, and core values, we can start allocating time to behave consistently with our core values, and dedicate more time to the critical tasks. And, speaking as a sleep researcher, never compromise your sleep. Sleep is not a luxury, sleep is vital for human functioning.
How do you keep students engaged in an online classroom?
I structured my classes in such a way that students come to the live sessions ready for discussions. First, I ask students to watch a few mini-lectures designed to provide content and definitions. This is the starting point, so everyone is “on the same page.” Second, students do a couple readings that push their thinking about the week’s topic. The next step is to apply the knowledge by doing a case analysis, a video case analysis, or engaging in a simulation. The final step is our live discussion. My role here is to facilitate the conversation and provide a unifying framework that will help students make sense of the week’s topic. The live sessions are very dynamic, and we have the structure to foment conversations. I particularly ask students to connect the week’s material with their current (or past) experiences and share those in the class. It is very rewarding to see those “aha” moments when students really understand what was happening in their organizations or teams.
What do you tell your students if/when they ask about accelerating their career?
We talk about leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness in my class. There are a few behaviors that are related to leadership emergence, and in general, they center around building your credibility. So, to become a leader, you need first to establish your credibility. However, leadership is also about followership. There is no leader without a follower. To be an effective leader you need to understand the complexities of the leader/follower relationship. We then talk about relational leadership, and how to create trust and a sense of community. We talk about inspiring and supporting followers and team, and we talk about legacy, or what you want to leave behind once you are not in the team or organization anymore. To accelerate their career, I ask students to introspectively evaluate their leadership behaviors, and identify strengths and weaknesses. I offer executive coaching to them if they want to develop a leadership development plan.
What is something people may not understand about online learning?
Perhaps it is common sense that Kelley Direct gives you the flexibility to learn at your pace, from wherever you are, whenever you want to. Perhaps a misconception is that Kelley Direct is not as intense as, or does not provide networking opportunities similar to, in-residence programs. This is far from the truth! I push my students to become the best individuals they can be. There is a lot of introspection. There is a lot of guided self-development. It is very intense. There are many opportunities to interact with classmates. Many of the classes structure activities so students engage with each other on a regular basis. In addition, there are signature events where students interact with the whole cohort and not only students in their class. The connections students create and foster during Kelley Direct are, perhaps, as important as the knowledge they acquire, and we created the structure for both to happen.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I used to be a professional basketball player back in Brazil. Long story short, I got hurt and had to pivot. I also used to play the drums for a blues and rock and roll band. Nowadays, my life is much quieter and simpler. I spend most of my time outside work with my wife and two daughters, who I love deeply. And yes, I still play pickup basketball but have not played the drums in a while. Perhaps a new pandemic project?
Your book recommendation for MBAs?
There are so many great books, but I really like two. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant is fantastic! We all need to minimize our biases and automatic responses to problems. People, in general, confound accuracy with speed. This book questions so many taken-for-granted assumptions. I really love it! The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh. This book is about the psychology of good people, and also fantastic. You will be a different person after reading these two books!