2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Shefali V. Patil, University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business 

Shefali V. Patil

University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business 

“Professor Patil has had a deep impact on my life through her teaching, both in and out of the classroom. Unhappy to just do what was easy, Professor Patil led an innovative class structure that broke the mold of what other professors default to. Outside the classroom, Professor Patil still impacts my life post-grad. In just a few years, we have passed back and forth over a dozen book recommendations and email chains. Her continued relationship with me and other students has turned concepts she taught in class like integrative complexity into actual ways I live my life, not just an assignment.” – Daston Arman

Shefali V. Patil, 35, is Associate Professor of Management at University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business. She is also co-faculty director of the McCombs Center for Leadership and Ethics.

Her research examines ways to enhance adaptivity, decision making, and performance in uncertain and polarizing environments. She works with numerous law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Army and Reserve Officer Training Corps, emergency medical rescue operations, and physician organizations to help leaders better manage public scrutiny and pressures to implement monitoring technologies. Her work appears in top journals including Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, Organization Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Policy Quarterly, and Research in Organizational Behavior.

She is the recipient of the McCombs College of Business Administration Foundation Research Award for Assistant Professors, the McCombs College of Business Administration Teaching Award for Assistant Professors, three consecutive BBA Faculty Honor Roll awards, and seven McCombs Research Excellence and University of Texas Research grants. 


At current institution since what year? 2014 

Education: Ph.D. and M.S., Managerial Science and Applied Economics, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; B.S., summa cum laude, Management and Organizations, Stern School of Business, New York University

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Leading for Impact 


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… To be honest, I stumbled upon this career path. Prior to beginning the doctoral program, I had very limited insights into the profession and was not personally connected to any business school professors. However, I did get a sneak peek into the profession when I was admitted to NYU Stern’s undergraduate honors program during my senior year. As part of this program, students are connected to an advisor and conduct a year-long research project. I was extremely fortunate to be paired with Professor Steven Blader, and as I worked on the project, I fell in love with the research process. To this day, I distinctively remember walking up and down Broadway in Lower Manhattan, thinking through research ideas/hypotheses and ways to test them. I was completely “in the zone.” All my life’s worries dissipated. Near the completion of the honors program, Steve told me that I had an intuitive knack for research and that I should seriously consider pursuing a doctoral degree. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am currently wrapping up my research stream on managing the employee-public relationship in challenging environments such as those faced by members of the law enforcement profession. Taken together, the studies that compose this research stream demonstrate how organizational behavior principles that business schools often take for granted can suddenly be “turned on their heads” when employees are operating in tense, heavily scrutinized contexts. For example, one of my research papers that is currently under review suggests that while providing autonomy and freedom for employees is generally applauded, this discretion may backfire when employees feel scrutinized and misunderstood. Under such circumstances, employees may actually use their discretion to engage in riskier decision-making, largely because of the resentment these conditions tend to elicit. Along these lines, a paper recently published in Organization Science suggests that monitoring systems—which are typically derided as draconian and inhumane because they limit people’s freedom—can surprisingly ease tensions between employees and the public when these technologies are implemented in more egalitarian ways (i.e., employees have equal access to recorded footage alongside their supervisors and the public). Having a tool to show their side of the story makes employees feel less in conflict with the beneficiaries of their work, which has positive spillovers for how employees perform on the job. As a final example, another paper published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes challenges the notion that prosocially motivated employees—those traditionally targeted and hired by mission-driven organizations precisely because of their altruistic drive—will always be proactive and go above and beyond to help their communities. My studies demonstrate that these prosocially motivated employees actually do not necessarily engage in proactive behaviors to help others if they also feel stereotyped and misunderstood by the very people they want to positively impact. 

Overall, this research stream suggests that rather than relying on overly simplified management principles—e.g., “giving employees autonomy is good!”—it is important for organizational leaders to account for contingencies and the type of environment in which employees are operating. Before implementing policies, they can ask: is the current environment characterized by low threat, low scrutiny, and public understanding or by high threat, high uncertainty, and high public misalignment? Answers to these questions will shape the effectiveness of the policies they deploy.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be an entrepreneur. It’s actually not too late for me or incompatible with being a business school professor. What I absolutely love about this profession is the freedom to engage in these types of activities post tenure.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? Given my research, which suggests that the effectiveness of management policies is contingent on the environment and other circumstances, I very rarely prescribe things to students in my classes—e.g., “you should always do X” or “you should be X.” Instead, I like to conduct exercises and simulations that enable students to think through various leadership dilemmas on their own and reflect on the pros and cons of different approaches to tackling them. My hope is that this approach teaches students how to think more critically and creatively about the pressing challenges our world faces.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Stimulating

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:  The sheer breadth of skills required to perform the job well. It still amazes me how many different hats I have to put on, especially post tenure. Within a week, I go from conducting media interviews and presenting to the advisory council of our leadership center to teaching executive education students and sitting down with former students inquiring about career plans to running statistical analyses and writing up my findings for submission to an academic journal article (or even a practitioner-oriented journal, which is a whole different beast!). Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love the challenge of having to constantly switch mindsets (I’m learning and growing in so many ways—and wouldn’t have it any other way!). However, this is a reality of the job that I never realized as an undergraduate simply listening to a professor lecture.

Professor I most admire and why:  This is a hard question because I admire a number of different professors for a variety of different reasons. But I particularly admire professors who have a definitive understanding of how and what type of impact they want to make—and then fully devote themselves to this path. In this vein, my primary advisors at Wharton—Professors Phil Tetlock and Adam Grant—serve as epitomes of people who chose a particular path and became giants in their own ways. Phil collaborates with the Intelligence Community to make groundbreaking advancements in geopolitical forecasting, and Adam makes groundbreaking advances in bringing organizational psychology research to the broader public. Their steadfastness and “clear eyes, full hearts” devotion to what they do—and the people around them—continues to serve as an inspiration as I carve my own path post-tenure.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Learning about the different walks of life they have travelled, the breadth of experiences they have had, and the unique imprints they want to leave behind in this world. 

What is most challenging? Managing classroom time! There are so many interesting and complex discussions to be had, and it’s always hard to determine what topics to cover and when to move on from discussions.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Insightful

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Complacent

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Having minimal assignments. I’m not a big believer in formal evaluations (I would cut them out entirely if I could because they are imperfect measurements of student learning). I would rather have intense and thought-provoking group discussions in which students engage with and learn from their peers and have opportunities to reflect.


What are your hobbies? Swimming, yoga, gaming with my brother, and exploring new hiking trails in beautiful Austin and surrounding areas

How will you spend your summer? Mostly doing three things: (1) Collecting data for my next stream of research, which I’m dubbing “cross-training for adaptivity” (i.e., determining what combinations of expertise enhance flexible and adaptive thinking); (2) Conducting interviews for the podcast I’m launching for the McCombs Center for Leadership and Ethics; and (3) Reading beside the lake, ocean, or any body of water!

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Texas Hill Country, San Antonio, Port Aransas

Favorite book(s): Too many to mention here! I have a habit of downloading and reading book samples on my Kindle—it’s the equivalent of picking up and skimming random books at the bookstore. In terms of inspiring my next stream of research, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke, and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein have been influential. In terms of providing insights into managing life, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David Hawkins, and Karma: A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting Your Destiny by Sadhguru have been useful.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?  Severance. It is based on a very interesting scenario: what would happen if technology could surgically divide people’s memories of their work and personal lives? There are a few logical flaws in this dystopian, sci-fi thriller but they are overshadowed by the show’s unique storytelling, suspenseful presentation, and deep relevance to conversations on work-life balance.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Very eclectic here, especially given my multicultural background. I will listen to anything with a moving beat and passionate voice (even if I don’t understand the lyrics).


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Courses that teach students how to think critically and sift through ambiguity and complexity with ease. Basic business content can be taught on the job, but how to make decisions and think through tough problems takes practice in a psychologically safe setting and is difficult to teach when there is already pressure to deliver outcomes.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Refraining from making knee-jerk policy decisions based simply on political pressures and feelings of compulsion. Policy making in organizations is messy at best; after all, you’re dealing with the interactions of multiple variables in a complex system. But leaders risk exacerbating the adverse consequences of poor policy making—from unexpected outcomes to never really solving the core problem—if they aren’t making decisions from a point of control or thoughtfulness.

I’m grateful for… The tremendous support that I have received at all stages of my career. I have always had people who have lifted me up and encouraged me to spread my wings…from Steve Blader and Batia Wiesenfeld at NYU nudging me as an undergraduate to enter the profession to Adam Grant, Phil Tetlock, and other Wharton faculty dedicating their time during my doctoral studies to help me build the necessary skills (and continuing to be my biggest advocates) to Ethan Burris and other senior UT faculty voluntarily providing mentorship and guidance as I navigate life as a faculty member to the program administrators and students who nominated me for this P&Q recognition. I am also grateful to be surrounded by people who make work fun and meaningful on a daily basis, including my research coauthors, junior UT management faculty, and the McCombs Center for Leadership and Ethics staff (Stacey Rudnick, Jamie Smith, Brooke Rickard). I have been extremely blessed in this realm of career support and hope to pay it forward by enriching the lives of others.


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