Welcome to Authentic Leadership for Everyday People, the podcast that investigates the connection between effective leadership and authenticity. Today, I am speaking with my former professor from Harvard Business School, Debora Spar. In addition to her role at Harvard, Debora served as the President of Barnard College from 2008 to 2017, where she led initiatives to highlight women’s leadership and advancement, including the creation of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and the development of Barnard’s Global Symposium series. Her current research focuses on issues of gender and technology, and the interplay between technological change and broader social structures.

Debora and I engage in an insightful conversation about the leadership lessons she learned in leadership throughout her career. Debora gets specific and talks about how listening and delivering are crucial to any leader’s success. Debora goes into detail about the Case Method and how she’s applied those tactics from academia to the business world. Finally, Debora provides very practical and powerful advice on how to successfully transition into a leadership role and speaks to some of her latest research as well as all of the trends of which we should be aware.

Key Takeaways:

[04:32] – This episode is dedicated to the memory of two of my former classmates, Jay and Greg

[06:13] – Today, I’m speaking with Debora Spar who shares her extensive background in academia and business and the major lessons she learned about leadership along the way

[11:20] – The Case Method

[16:13] – How leading a Case Method class is similar to leading a symphony orchestra

[17:57] – Key traits that make up Debora’s leadership style

[21:53] – Becoming a leader as an outsider to an organization

[23:46] – Listening and getting early wins

[26:24] – Biggest lessons Debora learned throughout her career

[30:58] – Debora goes into detail on her research

[38:23] – Trends we should all be paying attention to

[40:30] – Debora’s passions and hobbies outside of work and how they influence how she shows up at work

[41:40] – The business clichés that drive Debora absolutely crazy

[43:13] – Debora shares some food for your soul

[46:39] – And now here’s ‘Haunted Heart,’ a song written and performed by my wife, Susan Cattaneo

Tweetable Quotes:

“I think it’s actually a brilliant way of bringing groups of people to a decision because that’s essentially what the Case Method is.” ([15:10])

“One of the things I try to do is find people who, in fact, have different leadership styles because I’ve always felt like I need to balance who I am.” ([18:20])

“I think there’s a big difference in terms of growing up in a place and becoming a leader versus coming in as a leader when you’re also coming in as an outsider.” ([21:53])

“People are only gonna follow you if you deliver some things early on. So, I was always looking for sincere opportunities to understand what people really need and what they want and how to fix that. Trying to see where you can get the early wins is really important.” ([25:22])

“Economics is not just an abstract, dismal science. Economics affects the lives of people, particularly poor people. And we need to bring those people into our understanding of economics, otherwise we’re gonna fail them or fail the system.” ([34:37])

Links Mentioned:

Debora’s Website –

Debora’s Twitter – @deboraspar

Linkedin – 

Debora’s Books (also available on her website)

Work Mate Marry Love How – Machines Shape Our Human Destiny

Wonder Women – Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection

Ruling the Waves: – From the Compass to the Internet, a History of Business and Politics along the Technological Frontier

The Baby Business – How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception

Debora’s LinkedIn –

Link to ‘Memory of the Light’ by Susan Cattaneo –

Dino’s Email –

Podcast Instagram – @al4edp

Podcast Twitter –

Authentic Leadership for Everyday People Website – or

Authentic Leadership for Everyday People on Facebook –

Link to ‘Memory of the Light’ by Susan Cattaneo –