Business Management

Michael Harvey

John S. Toll Professor & Associate Professor, Dept. of Business Management

My focus: the questions that spark leadership.



  • M.S., International Business, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, 1998
  • Ph.D., Government, Cornell University, 1995
  • M.A., Government, Cornell University, 1990
  • B.A., English, University of Maryland, 1982
  • Non-degree studies, Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (Rome), 1982

Leaders ask questions, and anyone who dares to ask can be a leader. Those are the central findings of my research into leadership. Groups face many problems of survival and well-being, some internal and some external. Good leaders help identify, clarify, and solve those problems by asking hard questions and implementing effective answers. When groups don’t face pressing problems, leadership is less important, and the two main alternatives to leadership, bureaucracy (formal rules and rational planning) and culture (informal rules and traditions), become more important. In the pre-modern world culture was the predominant group organizational pattern, and in the modern world, bureaucracy is. (Most CEOs today, most of the time, function as top-of-the-pyramid bureaucrats rather than as true leaders.) Leadership itself-–real leadership-–is always in short supply, because asking hard questions and finding good answers is difficult. Leadership is needed most when groups face the challenge of change in order to survive and thrive. But change is hard, risky, and uncertain, and groups seek (understandably) to preserve as much of their enduring identity, values, and time-tested routines as possible. Especially because many would-be leaders are crackpots, fraudulent, unstable, or just plain wrong, group members are right to be cautious about the lure of leadership and its call for radical change. Thus the work of leaders is fraught with turmoil, doubt, and resistance.

I’m the co-editor of Leadership Studies: The Dialogue of Disciplines (Elgar, 2011), along with Prof. Ronald F. Riggio of Claremont College. I wrote the concluding chapter. The book was recognized as one of the year’s best books in leadership studies by the International Leadership Association.

 My research is interdisciplinary, drawing on the social sciences, interviews, imaginative literature, and classic texts stretching back to ancient literature. I’ve written about everything from Gilgamesh to Henry Ford. Leadership doesn’t come in neat little boxes, so we have to be imaginative and creative in how we explore it.


I’ve taught at Washington College since 1998. My departmental teaching focuses on groups, collaboration, and leaders. I also teach a first-year seminar, ‘The Business of Organized Crime,’ and in the summers I often teach a course on culture, leadership and innovation in Rome, Italy.

Teaching in a liberal-arts environment is a dream come true. I love weaving together good managerial education with a liberal-arts perspective. The key is to immerse students in a fun but challenging learning environment that introduces enduring organizational concepts (like division of labor, authority, bureaucracy, and motivation) with sharp questions and careful, patient reading of lots of wide-ranging texts, from very old to cutting-edge. If it works, students end up working harder–and learning more–than they ever imagined they could. A favorite assignment in my Organizational Behavior course is the work interview: all students interview an experienced working individual. Usually they choose a parent, and for some students it’s the first serious discussion about work, careers, and self-management they’ve ever had with their mother or father.

If my teaching helps students appreciate the power of questions, the joy of discovery, and the importance of powerful but old ideas, then I feel as if I’ve earned my paycheck. It’s a great feeling!

Fun stuff

My wife Sabine and I have two children. Sabine, a master gardener, loves to garden and teach young people about gardens and local, sustainable agriculture. (You can learn more about the amazing gardens she has helped start here.)

I love chess and am fascinated by its history (you can check out my self-published chess primer from our local library). I’ve served as a volunteer chess coach in schools, churches, and the library.