August 2012 | 

The Mid-Career Breakthrough

Mid-Career Breakthrough

Knowledge needs change over the course of a career, and failure to keep pace can have serious consequences. Richard Shell, Wharton Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics and Management, recently explained that while technical know-how is required in earlier stages where responsibilities are narrower, you need "more general knowledge of self, society, and other people" as responsibilities broaden. Specifically, Shell cited the later-career needs for "more opportunity to self-analyze and self-reflect" as well as "continued exposure to peers with deep, global experience."

But workplace pressures and full schedules make it difficult, if not impossible, to meet these needs while maintaining business-as-usual. It takes a real break, both physically and mentally, to learn new insights and tools, enlarge your global network, and take time to reflect.

Wharton@Work spoke with Stuart Taylor, CEO of Britain's GMG Radio, about his five-week experience in Philadelphia, and how the Advanced Management Program has affected his personal leadership and his organization.

W@W: What brought you to Wharton initially?

I was looking for a way to implement changes and improve the leadership capabilities of myself and my team. I didn't think that just having one person go to an executive education program was going to create the kind of change I wanted. I also knew that a group of us couldn't leave the business together for five weeks. So in 2010 I sent one of my top executives to the Advanced Management Program [AMP], and I attended a few months later. In 2011, I sent another executive. When he got back, the three of us met to determine some purposeful steps to apply what we learned, including project management and visioning.

W@W: What parts of the program resonate with you today?

Stuart Taylor: All of the leadership lessons were valuable, but there were some in particular that really made me analyze the way I was doing things and be open to making positive changes. Mike Useem used historical examples to help think deeply about core leadership qualities. The final set — which includes articulating a vision, thinking strategically, and conveying your character — has been extremely valuable in helping me create my own vision.

David Pottruck [former Schwab CEO] and Ram Charan [business advisor and author of The Talent Masters] were very instructive. I used my notes from David's session to create a template for leading change, which is what will guide our next major project. And Ram challenged me to become more curious, to build time into every day to scan for new ideas and to be open to them. He talked about the CEO in the 21st century — how to double your capabilities and capacity in three to four years. I'm continuing to read more of his work and to apply his teachings in my own personal conduct as a CEO.

W@W: In addition to David Pottruck's session on Leading Transformational Change, have you been able to use the course content in other practical ways?

Stuart Taylor: I used some of Mike Useem's work in a session on leadership and personality with 28 of my senior managers. I led a session based on what I learned, on how we bring our personality to work, and how it can both help us and sometimes get in the way. When you understand who you are, what your strengths, biases, and common reactions are, you can manage them and get better outcomes. We did personality testing and talked about how to manage remotely, which is a day-to-day challenge for GMG Radio, because my senior team is located throughout the UK.

W@W: What kinds of specific changes have you made concerning your own leadership?

Stuart Taylor: I've reevaluated a lot of what I do, and have made some very positive adjustments. Specifically, though, the way I manage and prioritize my time, the way I get involved in projects, and the way I communicate to my company and the people that work with me are changed. Communication is so critical, and I don't think I was using those opportunities to full advantage before. As a leader, it's how you galvanize and motivate people, make messages stick, and convey more of your personality.

W@W: What were some of the challenges involved in reentering the workplace after five weeks?

Stuart Taylor: When you come back, the last thing you should do is start changing things immediately. It's important to help people to understand gradually where you're coming from. That's hard enough if you're all working in the same office, but it's extremely challenging when you're all distributed around the country, and that's not to be underestimated. However, with three members of our team having been in AMP we are able to make significant changes that involve everyone within the organization.

That was my plan from the beginning — I knew one person having this transformational experience was not enough to create change within the organization. But three of us can make an enormous difference. It's like having three really strong coffees; you just get a huge shot of energy to re-commit to your role and your work. You come back knowing how to do things better and interested in achieving at a much higher level.

(Note: This story first appeared in the April 2011 issue of Wharton@Work.)