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Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership

Leadership Under Fire: Developing Character course

  • Oct 10, 2013
Leadership Under Fire: Developing Character course

The new course "Leadership Under Fire" is designed to bring the insights of good leadership developed over generations of military service to the students at the Ivey Business School. The course aims to increase awareness of "leadership of self" with a specific focus on leadership character and commitment to the role of leadership. We put together a brief overview of the course in a short video and have provided additional information below.


There is a persistent belief in the business world that while business schools do a good job of developing students' management skills, they have come up short in terms of developing leadership skills. The Ivey Business School has made significant efforts to deliver on 'the promise of leadership.' But we also know that the largest impediment to breaking through to a higher level of leadership development is the lack of significant or meaningful hands-on leadership opportunities. To achieve this in a classroom setting remains a challenge. A second concern that business executives have raised is that while business schools deliver on developing leadership competencies, an explicit focus on leadership character and a better appreciation for the importance of a commitment to the role of leadership has been, at times, absent. This course tackles both issues and exposes leadership and teaming abilities, leadership character and commitment to the leadership role in a field setting.


For generations, the Canadian Forces have been recognized around the world as extremely competent. As far back as the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902), Canadian troops have distinguished themselves in battle. Canadian units have a reputation for being well disciplined, highly effective and well led. The lessons of leadership that have been passed on from successive generations of military leaders have been hard won lessons indeed. As the Canadian Forces winds down its commitments in Afghanistan, there is an abundance of leadership experience that can be tapped into. The sharing of leadership development knowledge by our military with educational institutions that are producing Canada’s future business leaders, not only preserves that knowledge but also makes broader use of it in Canadian society as a whole.


One of the foundations of leadership is the ability to accomplish a task by influencing the behavior of other people. To do that, a leader has to be able to assess a situation, develop a plan, issue clear instructions and then supervise the execution of the plan. The problem with trying to teach leadership in a classroom setting is that students never really get beyond assessing a situation and developing a plan; there typically is no opportunity to issue instructions to a team and execute the plan.

Every officer in the Canadian Forces, regardless of whether they are in the Army, Navy or Air Force, goes through the same Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC). As the name implies, the BOTC trains officer candidates in the basics of leadership before they move on to more advanced training in their respective arms of the Canadian Forces. The course is designed to be transformational in the development of leadership skills and provides a platform for additional leadership training throughout an officer’s career. Virtually every officer reflects on the lessons learned during the BOTC as they advance in their career, take on additional responsibility and go through additional formal leadership training.


The course is modeled after the BOTC that every officer in the Canadian Forces goes through. It is not based on military tactics per se, but on task-oriented problem solving in stressful and uncertain contexts that require students to assess a practical problem, develop a plan to solve the problem, develop and communicate clear instructions to a group of peers, then lead the group through to the completion of the task. Students will be put in the roles of leader and follower. Various challenges will be built into the course to expose students' strengths and weaknesses in both their leading and following roles. Hence, the focus in the course is on 'what you do in this situation' as opposed to the case method dictum – 'what would you do?' Students will not only learn about leadership and teams, they will learn about themselves – their character and commitment to the leadership role.

Highly qualified instructor and peer evaluations on your leadership and follower skills reinforce both strengths and weaknesses and provide a roadmap for personal improvement. Thus we hope that this course will be a formative and transformative experience that you will reflect and build on throughout your career. If you aspire to become a leader, we boldly suggest you take this course.

Watch the video.