March 2014 | 

Building Skills — and a Global Network

Global Network

Georgette Jean-Louis first came to Wharton in 2011. As chief operating officer of Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, she was chosen to participate in the week-long Advanced Leadership Program, which was co-designed by Women’s World Banking’s Center for Microfinance Leadership and the Wharton School. The program’s goals include building a global understanding, increasing strategic and critical thinking, and driving stronger customer-centric innovation, with a focus on understanding the financial needs of microentrepreneurs, particularly women.

For Jean-Louis, the program also changed her perspective on her career. Soon after she returned to Haiti, she joined the governing board of the central bank of Haiti. But as with all new positions, it came with new challenges. When she realized she needed to strengthen her leadership skills, Jean-Louis returned to Philadelphia for Wharton’s The Leadership Edge: Strategies for the New Leader. “I needed to find a way to make my vision clear to people on the operational side. I’m responsible for how things go even though I’m not there working with them. If they fail, I fail.”

From her experience in the Advanced Leadership Program, she says she expected to find a diverse group that would learn together, both in and out of the classroom. She was not disappointed. “I got to work with many people from different backgrounds and different countries — six continents were represented. This made all the difference. The teams we lead are going to be diverse, so becoming part of a diverse team at Wharton was important.

“The program really brought us together in three days. That made it clear to me that at the bank we don’t know each other well enough. We need to get out and do something together, with no work talk, to help us get to know one another better. In The Leadership Edge, we were put in some situations that were outside our comfort zone. We were all very different, and we were strangers. Getting us to work together in an exercise made a real difference. Theory is good, but real life lessons can teach you more. I know I can apply this at work.”

Jean-Louis says she is also working to integrate lessons on emotional intelligence. “Great leaders can read people’s emotions and speak to them in ways that they will understand. People are very different, and if I want them to know what I want and really understand what I mean, I have to speak to them in ways that work for them. To get them to understand your vision, you may have to repeat yourself many times, in many different ways. Not everyone hears you the first time, or knows what you want to do. You also have to make sure you are not sending the wrong signals to people. Read their faces and pay attention to the clues they are giving you. I am trying to put this into practice.”

Jean-Louis continues to tap into the expertise of The Leadership Edge group. She serves on the board of a school in rural Haiti that wanted to apply for grants. They didn’t have the funds to start the process. Jean-Louis reached out to a fellow participant who helped the school access funds. “The networking I did while I was in the program will help us go farther. That is tremendous.”

She notes that both Wharton programs have helped her stay current, and have influenced her thinking. “When you have leaders who have been out of school for years, like me, it is so good to have a refresher. You get new ideas, and you might change your mind about some things. It helped me make an important career decision and learn new ways of doing things. It all started at Wharton,” she says. “I am in a new position, I am a better leader, and I have a stronger network.”