January 2016 | 

Leadership in Transition: Learn Before You Leap

Leadership in Transition: Learn Before You Leap

One of Wharton Executive Education’s premier offerings for senior management, the Executive Development Program (EDP), is attended by rising leaders from around the world (in the last running over 30 countries were represented). Some are sent by their employers in preparation for a larger role, while others choose to come on their own, after having left an organization. Taking an intentional learning break during a career transition can be an incredibly valuable experience, as Eduardo de Azevedo Rezende recently discovered.

The former private banking director at Credit Suisse Hedging-Griffo in Sao Paulo explains, “After 11 years at Credit Suisse, I was ready to move to a smaller firm. But I wanted to study, to take some time to be better prepared for a new challenge first. Even though I will be working in the commercial area with clients, there will be more room at a smaller bank to give input in other areas. What I learned in EDP about leadership, marketing, and negotiations can be shared.”

Todd Norris, who designed the simulation used in EDP and has worked with the program since 1998, notes that everyone in the program is in transition. “Everyone is in Eduardo’s place. They are going from being an expert in one area into another that they might not fully understand. The first step in that transition is unlearning — forget about the conventional wisdom that ruled before. Whether you are moving from marketing to production, finance to general management, military to civilian, or from one region or business unit to another, you have to be open to new knowledge and building a new mindset. You can build that over the two weeks in the program.”

Steve Genzer came to EDP before he transitioned into the role of President and General Manager Industrial Business Unit at Ansell. “I have a supply chain and operations background, and am now leading the largest business unit at Ansell. I had to quickly be able to have conversations and make decisions about marketing, our core brands, our value proposition, sales. Even though I have an MBA, you tend to forget things when you are not using them every day. I needed to brush up on business acumen, and the faculty in EDP do a great job of boiling everything down to the essentials.”

But, says Genzer, the most valuable part of the program was the focus on leadership. “I had to lead areas that I hadn’t led before. Gaining credibility quickly was very important. When you begin with people who have never worked for you before, remember that they’re not interested in your bio. They want to know who you are, how you make decisions, and what is important to you. You have to effectively communicate how you will bring value. You need to be aware of how others perceive you.”

Specifically, he credits the simulation and real-time feedback on his leadership and teamwork with helping him make needed changes. Instead of trying different tactics at work, where the stakes are high, executives in EDP have a live learning lab in which they experiment, step back and get feedback, and try again. “This is how you learn to do things differently,” says Genzer. “Practicing helps you see what works well and what doesn’t. I will always be learning, but because of EDP I started strong.”

Rezende just started work at the new bank, and he says the feedback he got during the simulation is making him “a better professional. You can realize what you can improve. I know what I need to work on in my new role, and I have more to offer at work.”