World’s Best B-School Professors: Nancy F. Koehn

by Andrea Carter on

Harvard’s Nancy F. Koehn is an astute professor of leadership

Nancy F. Koehn
Harvard Business School

Education:

Harvard University, PhD, European History
Harvard University, MA, European History
Harvard Kennedy School, MPP
Stanford University, BA

At Harvard Business School Since: 1991

Before Harvard Business School: Member of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences first as a graduate student in history and then as a lecturer in the History and Literature concentrations and the Department of Economics

Fun Fact: I am an avid equestrian and has three horses

If I wasn’t teaching, my dream job would be: Writing books and show jumping as a professional rider

Best part of the job: The bright, decent, articulate people with whom I am privileged to work; the variety of the work I do; as a historian at HBS, I get to move between the past and the present every day, learning from both.

Worst part of the job: Cold-calling a student who is not prepared

Often times the question is asked, “What makes someone a good leader?” Nancy Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School, takes a historical approach. Koehn examines leaders—both past and present—then expounds upon both the positive and negative lessons learned from the leading figures. Koehn consults with many companies and speaks regularly to business leaders and news media on a range of issues including leading in turbulent times. And her twitter feed is an entertaining and informative read.

Her research is particularly centered on entrepreneurial leadership and visionary leadership; however it’s not limited to just business. In 2006, Koehn wrote a case on Oprah Winfrey and brought it to life when she introduced Ms. Winfrey as a guest speaker for her Entrepreneurial Manager course. Then in 2011, Koehn published an article discussing key lessons to be extracted from Bono and U2. Professor Koehn has authored three books. Her most recent, The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times highlights people and events that have shaped business throughout the 21st century.

But it is her case study on explorer Ernest Shackleton that has drawn more interest from executives than any other Koehn has taught. The enduring lessons as she sees it: “First lesson: Cultivate a passion to lead, 2) Nurture your team, 3) Culture eats strategy for lunch, 4) Manage the energy around you, Lesson 5) Commit to a BIG, WORTHY mission and use flexibility in achieving it, and 6) Since all eyes are on you, show up as your best self.”

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