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Distinguished by Culture

Examining the Advantages of Embracing Berkeley Haas' Four Defining Leadership Principles


Arial photo of Berkeley Campanile at sunrise looking onto San Francisco Bay

We’re all familiar with the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This is one of many deep-seated principles adopted by cultures worldwide and throughout history. Its continued use illustrates just how powerful principles can be—they carry weight because they invoke shared ideals among groups of people, transcending cultural boundaries and giving us a common language to communicate with. On an individual level, principles are products of our values and serve as an internal compass.

At our core, we all want to know that what we stand for and do each day makes a difference—and that’s why principles make a difference. They define beliefs and behaviors that enable success in our work and personal lives. They also shape how others perceive and react to our actions, helping us create a ripple effect that can influence others.

Our Four Defining Leadership Principles

Though steeped in historical prestige, UC Berkeley has long been a hotbed of innovative thinking, diverse viewpoints, and academic rigor. The university's culture has been born of the dynamic interplay between these factors and through the minds of those that have shaped its collective identity: counterculture figures, tech trailblazers, leading-edge researchers, scientists, philosophers, critical thinkers, prolific creatives–the list goes on. This culture is rooted in providing space for new ideas, respectful dissent, intelligent debate, and for world-changing thought leaders to emerge and flourish.

In 2010, Rich Lyons–then dean of the Haas School of Business, launched an initiative to codify the Berkeley ethos—through a unique set of defining leadership principles—and fulfill his vision: "to become the most distinguished-by-culture business school." Rather than create some ideal, “because that would feel inauthentic,” Lyons and his team decided that Berkeley’s principles needed to stem from "essential elements of our culture” and the qualities that leaders of the future will need to be successful in the coming decades.

What came out of the process were four powerful leadership principles representing the culture's distinct fingerprint:

  • Question the Status Quo
  • Confidence Without Attitude
  • Students Always
  • Beyond Yourself

Question the Status Quo

Question the status quo written in the Haas walkways and sprinkled with leaves


“We thrive at the epicenter of innovation. We make progress by speaking our minds even when it challenges convention. We lead by championing bold ideas and taking intelligent risks”.

To Question the Status Quo is one of the most powerful tools that we have to improve our world. It allows us to explore different perspectives, weigh different opinions, and let common goals and truth (rather than our assumptions or fears) guide us toward a better future. The most successful leaders and innovators throughout history have approached problems by asking powerful, unpopular, or even dangerous questions–not just searching for answers. This activity is the foundation of critical thinking. So too is the understanding that today's innovations will become tomorrow's 'status quo.' With gratitude for the lessons of the past and respect for the ever-changing nature of things, we can thoughtfully move toward uncharted territory.

At Berkeley Executive Education, we champion this principle through a curriculum centered on activities that challenge conventional thinking and inspire powerful change for business and personal success. Our location at the epicenter of innovation grants us access to the world's most innovative minds and industry trailblazers who epitomize what it means to Question the Status Quo.

Confidence Without Attitude

“We make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act with humility. We foster collaboration by building a foundation of empathy, inclusion, and trust”.

Confidence is a character trait often attributed to successful leaders. It’s a belief that comes from the conviction that we’re acting with integrity and know enough about ourselves and a situation to make effective decisions and take appropriate action. Yet, it has little to do with title or position. Instead, it comes from putting our ego aside, weighing all options, and acting from a place of dauntless self-trust. When we do this, we build a calm, humble confidence with a greater ability to welcome and benefit from new information and perspectives.

Confidence Without Attitude is a prevailing character trait of our community and one reason we stand out from other institutions. This principle informs many of the core learning objectives at Berkeley Executive Education, going beyond theory and “paper prestige” with practical, real-world applications and collaborative activities aimed at cultivating true confidence.

Students Always

“We are a community designed to support curiosity. We actively seek out diverse perspectives as part of our lifelong pursuit of personal and intellectual growth. There is always more to learn”.

The “Information Age” has provided us with the world’s collective wisdom and a million different avenues of exploration at our fingertips. Yet we often only expose ourselves to a tiny sliver of information, failing to venture beyond our comfort zone. There is also a tendency for professionals to develop rigid thinking patterns, assuming we know all there is about a particular subject which, in today’s world, is a recipe for stagnation.

We believe curiosity is fundamental to leadership and sustained professional growth. Adopting a Students Always attitude means we actively seek new perspectives, gain more insights from each experience, and expand our world in unexpected ways–along with our ability to create change within it. Through our ever-evolving offerings at Berkeley Executive Education, we combine curious inquiry with diverse experiences beyond the typical scope of a given topic.

Beyond Yourself

Beyond Yourself is etched into the building of Haas

“We shape our world by leading ethically and responsibly. As stewards of our enterprises, we take the longer view in our decisions and actions. This often means putting the collective good above our own interests”.

We’ve all heard the idea that we should be out there doing stuff in our communities, putting our heads and hearts into projects bigger than ourselves, and making a difference in other people’s lives and society as a whole. Embracing the ethos of going Beyond Yourself is a noble effort driven by our core values and a genuine desire to have what we do matter to ourselves, others, and the world.

Leaders must overcome the tendency to take personal, short-term approaches to problem-solving and recognize the opportunities (and risks) accompanying our ever-increasing ability to influence our collective trajectory – for better or worse. Beyond Yourself reminds us to maintain a broad perspective on the downstream effects of our actions as organizations, leaders, and individual contributors.

Berkeley Executive Education participants find that the foundation of mutual support and advocacy throughout our programming inspires continued dedication to maintaining the “long view” and finding new applications for their unique experience and skills in service to others.


Organizations often create vision statements or guiding principles only to have them placed on a plaque in a lobby or buried on a website, never to be looked at again. However, through an ongoing strategic process that the Berkeley Haas team began years ago, the four Defining Leadership Principles are the heartbeat of our university and extended community. They actively guide our hiring process, curriculum, operations, and communications and are a reminder of who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe it takes to lead successfully in an era of disruption and extraordinary possibilities.

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