The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy excels in giving students an invaluable analytical toolkit for determining optimal public policy solutions.  The core classes at Harris are a critical component of that effort as they help students develop the analytical skills they need  to become better researchers and thinkers. However, data inquiry and evidence-based analysis must be paired with persuasive communication.  Communicating effectively is a major key to becoming an influential policy maker and advocate.

“At Harris, we understand that knowing what’s right doesn’t always translate to getting it done. Leadership is persuasion,” says Terri Brady, Executive Director of Harris Leadership Development. “To effect policy change you must convince people to accept your point of view, change their minds, and change their behavior. To do that, you must connect and relate to others. You must earn trust and build relationships.”

To help students develop the communication skills policy leaders need, Brady has implemented Harris Leadership Development, which allows students to develop what she calls “action skills.”

Action skills include, but are certainly not limited to, writing, public speaking, creating and giving presentations, using storytelling, building relationships, and teamwork. Some people refer to these as “soft skills,” but Brady says the term doesn’t give enough credit. “Leading a team or collaborating successfully on a team is an action skill. Finding your voice and expressing your opinion is an action skill,” Brady says. “There’s nothing ‘soft’ about public speaking. Doing it well is hard!”

The first step in the leadership development process at Harris is one aimed at increasing the students’ self-awareness. All incoming students take the “TAIS” (The Attentional and Interpersonal Style Inventory) assessment. Brady says the highly regarded TAIS assessment gives students insights about their leadership style, their preferred communication style, their social style and helps them understand how they pay attention. “TAIS gives them a foundation for understanding and talking about their intrapersonal and interpersonal behaviors. It leads them to ask important questions, such as: How do I process information and make decisions? What does this mean for how I show up on a team? What communication skills should I  build while I am at Harris?”

In addition to enhancing self-awareness and providing insights about leadership and communication, Harris Leadership Development also provides opportunities for experiential learning so that students can practice their action skills. This year, the program has focused on helping students understand storytelling, an essential skill for influential policy makers. Brady invited professional storyteller Scott Whitehair to lead several workshops for students to find and develop their own voice as storytellers. Brady also organized workshops that featured communication experts  who focused on “why” students should learn storytelling, and a storytelling consultant who guided students through a workshop on how to create stories using big data.

Not only are the Harris Leadership Development events innovative and fun, but the skills students learn by participating in them will help their careers. “At Harris, we are committed to preparing our students for their careers. We want them to leave here with strong communication skills so they can be persuasive leaders. Of course, we also prepare them to be successful job candidates. We create opportunities for them to practice their interviewing skills, their networking and team skills, and their public speaking and presentation skills. If an employer asks them to take an assessment, they will be ready for that too.”

Brady, who has an MPP herself, sees the value in developing action skills at Harris: “Students are so busy that they don’t always have time to reflect on how much they are learning and absorbing. But they are constantly taking in lessons about how to approach problems, do research, how to ask questions, make important observations, and synthesize information,” she says. “And they are doing all that while they are writing policy memos, speaking in the classroom and presenting to colleagues and clients.”

As Harris Leadership Development continues to grow, Brady hopes to help all Harris students develop action skills they can apply to their studies and future careers.