September 2019 | Leadership
What kind of difference can you make in your leadership in just five days? Skeptics might say very little. But for those who attend Wharton’s High-Potential Leaders: Accelerating Your Impact program, there is another answer: dramatic.
Feedback from participants often includes the words “breakthrough” and “transformational.” Wharton Management professor Sigal Barsade, who directs the program, says those outcomes are not only common, but they’re achieved by design. “One of the things that makes High-Potential Leaders unique is the condensed way it leads to self discovery. The classroom sessions, hands-on experiences, and a unique Leadership Challenge component together create a dynamic, intense learning environment. There is also a tremendous amount of feedback from faculty and peers that makes the program highly personalized and very practical.”
Professor Amrita Subramanian, who teaches organizational dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, oversees the Leadership Challenge that runs throughout the program. Before participants arrive on campus, they are asked to identify and share with her a difficult professional challenge. She says participants often have issues that have been long-standing problems, and they have never been discussed before with cross-industry, transdisciplinary approaches in mind.
“Some of those issues include critical stakeholders and relationship mapping, uncertainty of markets, inward and outward conflicts, and hostile takeovers that can leave executives feeling stuck,” says Subramanian. “Others focus on leadership challenges that have them energized, but still not feeling like they know exactly what to do to get to the next step.” On the last day, the most consistent aspect is the immediate action(s), ROI of the time spent, and an amusing relief at not “being alone” with the challenge anymore, once the collective intelligence does its part. Participants leave with a tightly bonded community.
Major themes of the participants’ challenges are identified and shared with the seven Wharton faculty who teach in High-Potential Leaders. “The whole program adapts organically to those themes,” says Subramanian. It is this personalized learning, in addition to incredible amounts of feedback, experiential learning, and the leadership challenge, that accelerates progress. Subramanian says, “Participants are often astonished by their own breakthroughs and the generosity of the learning community.”
“In this age of hyper competition,” she continues, “we are able to harness and amplify the collective intelligence of the group. They build a strong level of trust and connection, often staying in touch for months or years after the program ends. Having that happen in five days is virtually impossible in any other setting. In fact, I have not come across any other program that creates this for adult learners in the room.”
“I see how much personal significance the experience has,” says Subramanian. “You come in expecting the latest research and fabulous teachers. You definitely get that. But there are also the additional benefits of directly applying the program content and working through problems with peers, leading to multiple solutions they never thought of. Those solutions come from intentionally leveraging the intelligence of our community of learners, and they can be applied to some of their most pressing problems as soon as they get back to work.”
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