Teaching Business Case Studies From a Leadership Perspective

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In Japan, the school year starts in April. In one of my classes for undergraduate students in the International Business Career (IBC) major at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS), I teach business case studies. I have been focused on teaching such case studies from a leadership perspective.

In my experience, business case studies are the stories of organizations with problems (or challenges). I try to get my students to learn leadership lessons from these stories.

In my TESOL Blog post in December 2013, I defined leadership as follows:

As a researcher of professional communication, I recognize that many different conceptualizations of leadership exist. For me personally, however, I like to view leadership as a communication process consisting of two parts: 1) communicating to create a vision and 2) communicating to achieve a vision. Leadership is considered by many to be an “influence relationship,” and in my personal conceptualization of leadership, leadership would involve influencing others through communication associated with the goals of part 1 and part 2.

My personal conceptualization of leadership above has influenced the way that I teach business case studies.

In class, we go over the details of a business case study. As a graduate student, I personally experienced “cold calling.” (“Cold calling” means that a student answers aloud the question of the teacher in class about one or more details of the case study being discussed. The students are graded on their individual responses. The students cannot use notes, etc. to answer the teacher’s questions.) I like to use such a cold calling approach with my students for the following reasons:

  • The students need to study the business case study before class.
  • The students develop their skills to speak in English under pressure.
  • The approach prepares students for a similar business case study class in the United States.

Among the questions that I ask my students are the following:

  • What is the company in the business case study trying to do now?
  • Who had the vision (or who created the goal)? How did they create that vision or goal?
  • Who is trying to achieve the vision? How did they get stakeholder agreement?
  • How are they trying to achieve that vision or goal?

In my approach to teaching business case studies, leadership is conceptualized as 1) influence, 2) action, and 3) change.

In personalizing a business case study lesson, I have found the following questions to be helpful:

  • What would you do (or have done) in this situation?
  • How would you get (or have gotten) it done?
  • What lessons did you learn from this case study?

For ESPers, leadership involves influencing stakeholders. In this regard, I found an American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) blog post (Gautrey, June 11, 2013) to be interesting. In his post, Gautrey writes about “seven stakeholder management principles that, if followed, will move you faster toward your goals.”

As ESPers, we need to train future leaders. We also need to develop our own leadership skills. Good luck!

All the best,



About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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