Foster Faculty Spotlight – Bruce Avolio

Get to know Bruce J Avolio, Mark Pigott Chair in Business Strategic Leadership and Executive Director, Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST) at the Foster School of Business. He teaches electives for the Fritzky Leadership Fellows.

Bruce headshot


What are some of your research interests?  

I am keenly interested in studying and then applying how to accelerate the development of all positive forms of leadership. I seek to convince everyone that if you are ready to engage in developing your leadership, you already are developing your leadership. Readiness does impact acceleration, which enhances performance.


Which factors influenced your decision to join UW Foster?

The quality of the people who teach here, students who come here, our staff, the amazing accomplishments at this university just about every day, our community, and that I wanted to be at the best “public” university on earth, until we move onto the Moon or Mars… of course.


What do you find meaningful about your time thus far at Foster?

How we went from naming Michael G. Foster School of Business only 17 years ago, to being one of the best business schools– pound-for-pound or in kilos if you like, while showing the world how we are lighting up teaching, research and the practice of what we teach in every corner around the world. And…of course I do like the Salmon.


How does your work align with Foster’s purpose? Purpose statement: Together…We Foster Leaders; We Foster Insights; We Foster Progress…To Better Humanity. 

I study leaders and work on proving what works and does not work in measuring and developing them. I challenge all leader’s assumptions, models, and frameworks, to help them foster insights. I advocate evidence-based leadership development practices to assess progress in developing others and ask those I work with to examine the return on the investment from such activities/interventions. I fully believe that there is no more powerful human force than good and bad leadership or good and bad followership, or good and bad peer-ship, or good and bad leading up, down, horizontally, directly and indirectly.  I challenge all of you in our MBA programs to be more “other-centered” not “self-centered”, as the other orientation will support your “best self” quite well, not the other way around. I also challenge you all to take the best selves you brought to this amazing place and make it better…not alone but through every interaction you have while you are part of this enterprise and beyond. Engage. Your time will go much more quickly than you ever could have imagined. The Foster experience is the one you largely define.


How have you worked to make your classroom/course curriculum inclusive? 

Active Listening. I constantly seek to diminish the “power influence distance” between me and others—in terms of status, privilege, and position. I seek to be transparent, which is my core value, and I encourage that in others. Showing up to engage everyone is the goal I have in mind. I randomly select Class Ambassadors to help me, and us, steward the class towards higher engagement. The Ambassador’s first right is to challenge what I say and be respectful of all others. 


Any favorite memories from your experience with Full-Time MBAs/Evening MBAs? 

Crewing on South Lake Union with the Fritzky Fellows.


How is your teaching influenced by instructional best practices?  

Positively! More seriously, I have learned A LOT from the hybrid experience that has transformed the way I think about how I use time and engage. Also, I have used a teach back requirement many times in my career that requires the student to become the teacher. And yes, they often do it differently and better.


How do you maximize learning and keep students engaged? 

I don’t feel that it’s solely my responsibility to engage students. Like leadership, you can’t lead without someone willing to follow. From my side, I ask open-ended questions, show my infinite interest in differences of every sort imaginable, share stories that are relevant…most of the time, and wherever possible, enable them to choose what they want to learn…which contributes to their readiness to engage.


Are you currently doing work outside of Foster that influences what happens in the classroom? 

Just about every single day…no kidding.  I meet with at least one of our board members from the Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST) once per month or more—I don’t have many traditional board meetings; I work with leaders around campus at all levels, and am working currently with the leadership of everything related to our great campus facilities, including engineering, building, sustainability, transportation, etc.; with UW Central & Athletics on projects such as the Shell House initiative—aka Boys in the Boat; with emerging and senior fire fighters from 15 different agencies around Washington State, including the Seattle Fire Department and Chief in one  to two year-long programs; with numerous not for profits, e.g., Equal Opportunity Schools; with government and private sector companies across all sectors, F5, Alaska, Microsoft, Brooks Running and Talking Rain; as well as Biotech, VA Healthcare, various Military agencies and academies, the Shipping Industry, Technology companies working on Space and Ivars!


How have your relationships with industry experts influenced what happens in your class? 

The public and private sector leaders, experts and every other individual in those contexts are my lab and practice application court, so in every way it is part of what impacts my class and myself in terms of examples, frameworks, models, practices (both good and bad), etc. I tie together well-tested theory and models to that lab to support evidence-based practices all the time.


How has your research influenced the curriculum at other business schools? 

My research on leadership, with a legion of smart colleagues and students, has impacted every business school in terms of models, methods and practices associated with all forms of leadership, e.g., shared, teams, visionary, inspiring, generative, ethical, transformative, authentic, strategic, horizontal peer to peer, virtual, follower-centric, development, positive organizational practices, psychological capital of leaders and all those led, e.g., Hope, Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism (H.E.R.O.) and once in a while by taking characters like Ted Lasso and writing an article about leadership read by over 30,000 alumni in the first few weeks. Thank you Ed Kromer, my editor/co-author. I have been recognized as being among the top 70 most highly cited researchers in the United States in Economics and Business, and among the top 3,000 across all sciences around the globe (Thomson Reuters).  I was listed recently at the 18th spot on all time most highly cited industrial and organizational psychology researchers over the last 100 years, and #3 as the most highly cited author in the top Organizational Behavior textbooks used in both undergraduate and graduate programs. I was recently listed by Stanford University, as being in the top .02% of all scientists globally for his research impact and citations. None of this did I do alone! Not even close…


What can students expect to master by the end of your course?  

Simply to be a more effective human being, which is measurable and quantifiable, so that they can provide a better return for those they lead, follow and work with – most importantly themselves.


How will students apply the knowledge and skills they gain in your classroom in their careers?  

Every day hopefully. Suspending judgment and collecting more data before judging others. Leveraging positivity. Understanding at the deepest levels their authentic leadership and best self and the gaps to still be addressed. In coaching others. In creating and leading teams. In creating an environment that recognizes that increased diversity will place tremendous challenges on achieving the highest levels of equity and inclusion, but the results will be amazing in terms of engagement, innovation, performance and a broader selection of wonderful foods!


Any tips for incoming MBAs on how they can brush up on skills/knowledge over the summer? 

Wherever you are, observe, reflect and if time permits try out what you think represents a positive form of leadership. Experiment and Repeat. You must observe and reflect before you can ever develop, so build those muscles, as they will make you more ready to develop to your highest potential and then improve again. Most leaders do not have a discipline around setting time to observe, reflect and experiment. You can win on this strategy!


What advice do you have for students to ace your course?  

If I told them, it would be like telling them the last episode’s finale in their most favorite series they are binging. Sorry, I just can’t do that. Yes, Ted Lasso is….nope won’t tell you.