January 2017 | Leadership
When you know some aspect of your leadership isn’t working optimally, what do you do? Some executives look to the behavior of others and try to incorporate their styles into their own. Others turn to trusted colleagues, who may or may not be honest, since they have a vested interest in the outcome. Still others turn to coaches, who can lack the relevant business experience to help guide them.
Finding expert, impartial advice is a challenge, but Wharton’s High Potential Leaders: Accelerating Your Impact was designed to meet the need. Participants receive feedback on their real-world challenges from faculty and experienced peers through a carefully designed assessment process. Monica McGrath, former vice dean of executive education, introduced the exercise while serving in an integration role. She calls it a “dynamic part of the program.”
Participants are asked to write a “business case” based on a difficult leadership challenge they are facing, and bring it with them to Wharton. Each day, small groups work on these real-world issues, applying classroom learnings, observations, and insights based on their own experiences which vary widely by industry, job role, country, and culture.
“We provide a facilitated environment with boundaries and structure,” says McGrath. “Participants stay on target about their perspectives and the application of new concepts. The purpose is not to tie you to a solution, because for some challenges there is no solution, but to help you see the situation differently. You get a chance to hear from others how you can step away from your default mode and try something new.”
She says default modes are normally difficult to change or adapt, because they become entrenched, and leaders often justify their behaviors even when they don’t deliver results. “The process forces you to take a posture of non-defensiveness. It’s not easy to say you don’t know how to do something at work; you’re expected to have answers. Here at Wharton, you can take a fresh look at your challenges without that expectation. You listen while others provide different perspectives.”
For R. Adam Lee, Wharton CPD holder and defense and space industry manager, High-Potential Leaders helped him to discover his strengths and work on his weaknesses as a leader. He learned that he excels at identifying areas of concern and starting projects to address the issue.
“Assembling the right team members, identifying where there are problems, and putting a plan in place to resolve the issue are my strengths,” he says. “I found I am not the best at following up to see if the team is on track because I have identified another issue and I want to start addressing the new problem. What I learned is not everybody sees things the way I do — not everyone has the same level of drive or urgency. To get full team unity, I need to lead in different ways with different people.”
Like Lee, every participant in High-Potential Leaders comes away with a game plan for making positive changes. “We recognize that people come to High Potential Leaders because they want to walk away with new ideas and ways of operating,” says McGrath. “We help them to step away from the way they always do things and experiment with a new strategy or action. They get ideas and insights into how they can apply what they are learning in the classroom to their own issues.”
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