UBC Sauder instructors prepare students to be leaders in times of crisis

A row of five profile photos.

Tracey Gurton, Lingtao Yu, Sandra Robinson, Michael Daniels and Rebecca Paluch team teach crisis management through an organizational behaviour lens.

Posted 2020-08-18
Students at the UBC Sauder Robert H. Lee Graduate School are gaining new knowledge and practical skills to help them lead teams and organizations during times of crisis. 

Crisis Management Through an Organizational Behaviour Lens (BAHR 580D) is a new course being offered this summer to UBC Sauder graduate students. Designed in response to the urgent need for effective leadership during COVID-19, students are learning how to manage in a crisis and come out stronger on the other side. 

“Leaders and managers are doing the best they can within organizations,” says Danielle van Jaarsveld, Chair of the Organizational Behaviour & Human Resources Division at UBC Sauder. “Many people have risen to the occasion, but they’re making it up as they go. This course provides some additional tools to support and better prepare our MBA students for the next crisis. Also, we help them navigate challenges they’re currently encountering.” 

Van Jaarsveld brought together five of UBC Sauder’s most accomplished professors to design the new course in a matter of weeks. Three of the professors are currently conducting research on how individuals are experiencing COVID-19, so students are being introduced to data and insights that are hot off the presses. 

Team teaching to deliver a dynamic classroom experience

The course involves five classes, each led by a different faculty member. Change management expert Tracey Gurton kicks things off by introducing some of the scholarly work on crises, then shows students how individuals and teams at all levels of an organization can respond effectively to a sudden change or disruptive event.

Next, Distinguished University Scholar Sandra Robinson teaches a module about trust. 

“We discuss the critical importance of trust in crisis situations and what actions leaders need to take to protect it,” explains Robinson. “We also examine why trust is often lacking. So we explore together the barriers and challenges to building and sustaining trust during crises, and how to overcome them.”

Michael Daniels focuses his module on the role of leading others in a crisis. He juxtaposes research suggesting how people typically respond to threatening situations and make decisions with the kinds of responses that are needed to address complex challenges. 

“Students will be encouraged to reflect on their own personal leadership philosophies and behaviors and consider their readiness to respond effectively to the crises of the present and future,” says Daniels. 

Lingtao Yu teaches Management of Self During Crisis. Topics include mindfulness, motivational biases and heuristics, happiness and meaning, as well as self-control and decision support systems.

“The key idea of this session,” says Yu, “is to introduce students to some research and evidence-based tools regarding how to better manage self while working on site or remotely, particularly during this challenging time.”

Rebecca Paluch concludes the course with a module on diversity and inclusion in times of crisis.

“I focus on two main objectives,” says Paluch. “First, students explore the ways COVID-19 may differentially impact historically marginalized groups and exacerbate inequality. Second, students examine how organizations and leaders respond to crises that are motivated by discrimination and inequality. Specifically, students analyze organizational responses to the Black Lives Matter movement and provide recommendations for future actions.”

Combining student cohorts to facilitate a richer discussion

To create a class that reflects diversity in professional and cultural backgrounds, UBC Sauder opened the course to students from all three MBA programs. 

“I really like this course’s format,” says Kevin Ly, a Professional MBA student. “Each professor brings their different academic backgrounds and experiences to class, along with their different teaching styles, and it adds a certain richness to the class.”

According to Morning Qu, an International MBA student, “What I’ve learned so far has enabled me to identify some issues existing in my former company, as well as appreciate the good deeds as well. I’m connecting newly learned concepts and methodologies with my observations from the organization.”

Full-time MBA student Vivrut Jayaram says he’s learning new leadership skills, including how to manage teams, stress and emotions during unprecedented times. “I’ve enjoyed the fact that the content focuses on several psychological and behavioral aspects, such as showing humility as a leader.”

In addition to learning from one another, the students are processing all that has happened to them during the COVID-19 pandemic and finding comfort in their shared experience. 

“Every one of us has been impacted or challenged in some way,” says Professor Gurton. “If we choose to remember this, to honour our own long hours, vertical learning curves, frantic episodes of soul-crushing stress, and looming deadlines without childcare, we will be in a much better position in the future to show the compassion required to undertake an organization change, or simply be a better manager.” 

The team effort that went into fast-tracking the course – from concept to design and delivery – exemplifies the core principles of BAHR 580D; being agile, responsive and supportive in the face of great change. It’s now up to the graduates to apply their learning to help teams and organizations plan for the next crisis that comes along. 

For more information about this course, email: