March 2021 | 

Mastering Lifelong Learning

Mastering Lifelong Learning

In his latest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You  Don’t Know, Wharton management professor Adam Grant makes a compelling case for lifelong learning. Knowledge, opinions, and methods have a shelf life, he explains, and the consequences of hanging on to what worked last year — or last month — can be dire. Imagine clinging to a disrupted supply chain or a strategy that has been profoundly challenged by a competitor’s unexpected moves. As Jeff Bezos put it, “If you don’t change your mind frequently, you’re going to be wrong a lot.”

For senior leaders, though, being willing to unlearn and relearn can be more challenging than for those lower in the organizational hierarchy. Entrenched patterns of thinking and behaviors, especially those that have worked well over time, can be hard to break. In addition, when so much is dependent on your decisions, it can be hard to acknowledge what you don’t know. And you can’t always count on those around you to give you honest feedback.

At Wharton, two comprehensive leadership programs address these issues in dynamic, intensely personal, weeks-long learning journeys. While leveraging a combination of the latest research-based theories and field-tested best practices, experiential learning, and executive coaching, they also help leaders forge strong bonds with like-minded executives who represent a range of industries, experiences, and geographies.

Advanced Management Program

Designed for leaders at or near the C-suite, the Advanced Management Program (AMP) is now offered in hybrid form, with five online modules and two weeks on campus. The program culminates in the awarding of alumni status. A distinctive feature of the AMP  is its focus on deep personal growth and breakthrough leadership development.

Bill McNabb, who became CEO of Vanguard during the financial crisis in 2008, says, “For individual leaders, the most important traits are having a growth mindset and grit. The two are highly interrelated. With today’s speed of change, the need to keep learning has never been greater.”

McNabb, who has taught in AMP, continues, “Successful leaders must continue to challenge themselves, get out of their comfort zone, and grow. That is what AMP is designed to do. The program gives you the opportunity to absorb multiple years of learning and personal growth in just a few weeks.”

Heiko Trautmann, partner in Wiesbaden-based consulting firm fambusch GmbH, remembers an observation shared by innovation professor Ian MacMillan. He said that the only constant you’ll have in your career is uncertainty. Change would accompany us throughout our working lives. We learned to embrace that in AMP, as we were being challenged daily both intellectually and in terms of our mindsets. Taking in so many new ideas makes you question old ones, and the other people in the learning community are on that journey with you.”

Executive Development Program

In Think Again, Adam Grant cites studies of leadership effectiveness in the United States and China that found the most productive and innovative teams are run by leaders who have faith in their strengths, but also are aware of their weaknesses. “They know they need to recognize and transcend their limits,” Grant says, “if they want to push the limits of greatness.”

Recognizing and transcending limits are the goals of the Executive Development Program. Now offered online over three consecutive weeks, it prepares leaders with mastery in one area for broader responsibilities. Like AMP, it targets individual growth in addition to subject matter knowledge and skills, and requires a substantial level of engagement.

Unique to the EDP is a realistic business strategy simulation that tests and improves leadership, resilience, agility, and critical-thinking skills. Participants are observed throughout the simulation by executive coaches who personalize the learning experience.

Diane Denton, VP of state energy policy at Duke Energy Corporation, says that coaching was especially valuable. “The simulation is designed to let you apply knowledge you just learned under pressure in a highly charged environment. That sequence makes for much better retention — the lessons really get cemented in. Having my coach watch me and then give me feedback on my performance was really important. Lynn challenged my thinking and assumptions about myself and how others might perceive me as a leader.”

Andrew Fullem, vice president of global business development at John Snow, Inc., says the feedback he got from his coach exceeded his expectations. “I have decision-making tools to move ahead with,” he says. “The feedback might be something you’ve heard before, but when it’s delivered in-the-moment and in a different frame, you’re able to come back to work and manage yourself in a different way. It’s easier to unlearn when you know what to relearn.”

Wharton marketing professor and director of EDP Patti Williams says the need for the program has never been greater. “There may be no more critical moment for professional development in our lifetimes. By choice or consequence, companies need their senior leaders to upskill now. They’re asking people to step up to new responsibilities in ways they haven’t had to before, and they can’t wait.” Odelya Arnold, chief of staff, worldwide customer success at Citrix, agrees. “There was so much growth in such a short amount of time, and I feel like I came out on the other side a better version of myself.”