Teaching Michigan Ross BBAs It’s Ok (And Inevitable) To Fail

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To help incoming BBA students learn how to overcome their fears and bounce back from failure, the Ross School of Business began teaching strategies for embracing failure in a leadership module of the core BBA 200 course this year.

Introducing the topic of failure early in the BBA curriculum is among the growing number of ways Michigan Ross is addressing increased student demand for mental health resources. The increasing demand at Ross is consistent with rising levels of anxiety reported by students at universities around the world, according to Julie Kaplan, the embedded Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselor at Ross.

A major source of stress and anxiety for undergraduates is the fear of failing, which Kaplan attributes in part to Generation Z being less resilient than past generations.  

“In general, Gen Z students don’t know how to fail,” she explained. “At Ross, we’ve seen more and more extremely high-functioning individuals entering business school never having experienced what they think of as failure, and encountering it for the first time here, now that they’re surrounded by other high achievers, and being unable to process their emotions.”

As a result, Kaplan said, Ross faculty and staff recognized the need to equip BBA students with the ability to better manage and grow from failure. She said that led to weaving in the teaching failure in BBA 200 during a module where students are asked to think of themselves as leaders.

Introducing the topic of failure early in the BBA curriculum is just one of the growing number of ways Michigan Ross is addressing increased student demand for mental health resources.

“Failure is a big part of leadership, as no leader is successful one hundred percent of the time,” said Cathy Shakespeare, professor of accounting and faculty coordinator for the BBA 200 course. “All the students have failed in some way, but they don’t think it about. This class gets students thinking of when and why they failed, what they can learn from it, and how they can use that knowledge to have the appropriate reaction to failure in the future.”

During the leadership module, the BBA students participate in discussions about times they took risks or faced a fear with classmates and are encouraged to do their own personal reflections.

Shakespeare said the idea is for students to see failure as a positive, which involves using a growth mindset (where learning and developing are the goal) as opposed to an achievement-oriented mindset (where “success” is the goal) when approaching new challenges.

“If we can change how the students view failure, it will help them not only manage risk-taking in the challenging BBA curriculum at Michigan Ross, but also provide them with a better approach to life and the type of leaders they become in their future jobs,” said Shakespeare.

In addition to teaching the topic of failure in BBA 200, peer advisors also work with Ross students to give support and guidance for navigating their first years at business school. Another resource for undergraduates is Mind Matters, a student-run organization at Ross with a focus on students' mental health and well being.

More about the Ross BBA Program