UVA Darden Dean to Tri-Sector Leadership Group: Knowing What Questions to Ask More Important Than Knowing the Answer

09 February 2016

By Laura Hennessey Martens

University of Virginia Darden School of Business Dean Scott Beardsley welcomed 20 students from the University’s Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows program to his home in Pavilion I on the UVA Lawn to discuss business in society issues through the lens of cross-sector leadership.

After a brief introduction by Darden Professor Mary Margaret Frank, one of the three faculty program leaders, the dean welcomed the graduate students and explained the historical significance of the setting.

Gesturing to the living room parlor in which they were seated, Beardsley said, “This used to be a classroom.” He referenced how the University’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, placed faculty homes in the Academical Village to foster continuous learning and engagement between students and professors, “much like our discussion here today.”

In preparation for the session with Beardsley, the fellows read a case study and articles related to deregulation of the global telecom industry, an area in which the dean gained expertise early in his career. Throughout the session, Beardsley called on the fellows, raising key considerations of the case through an exchange of follow-up questions and scenarios. “I’m the CEO. You’re the consultant,” he proposed. “What type of questions would you ask me? What unique set of skills and knowledge does each of us bring to this process?”

Beardsley challenged the students to consider the unique expertise, concerns and often competing interests of each stakeholder, including business representatives, government officials, consumers, workers, unions and other interest groups involved in the deregulation case study.

After sharing insights and observations based upon his personal experience with deregulation in the telecom industry, Beardsley offered some basic steps to create a decision-making model using a multiple-stakeholder, cross-sector approach. “First, you need to figure out who are all the stakeholders? Next, you need to consider what do all those stakeholders care about?”

Beardsley stressed that effective cross-sector leaders need to be observant and inquisitive about the interests of all involved.

Frank added, “Good tri-sector leaders have an ability to listen first and talk later. And an ability to show humility and admit what you don’t know.”

Beardsley agreed. “It’s not about knowing the answer. Actually, what’s most important is knowing what questions to ask.”

Administered by the Darden Institute for Business in Society, the Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows program explores effective, responsible leadership and the importance of multi-disciplinary perspectives in decision-making. The program brings together prominent leaders from business, government and social sectors with graduate students and faculty from the Darden School, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and School of Law for a series of Jeffersonian salon-style conversations.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia