March 2022 | 

Too Busy to Learn? Think Again.

Too Busy to Learn? Think Again.

You know something needs to change, but you “don’t have the time.” Maybe your leadership feels tired — you find yourself doing the same things in the same ways even though you know there are probably better courses of action. Or you’re having a hard time keeping up with changes in your industry. Or the challenges you are facing (about your supply chain, a shrinking workforce, or greater competition) are getting overwhelming.

Recognizing the need for new knowledge is the easy part. But making time to acquire it turns out to be one of the biggest roadblocks to executive development. The good news is that overcoming it might be easier than you think. Wharton’s General Management Program (GMP) is designed to fit into already-overloaded executive schedules.

Rigorous, flexible learning journey

Billy Greineisen, PhD, director of strategy and corporate development at Cox Enterprises, acknowledged that excelling in his current role, and preparing for opportunities in the future, was going to take effort. “I knew it was important, so I did the research,” he says. “There are a number of prestigious ‘mini MBAs’ offered out there. But the GMP stood out to me. It offered Wharton’s expertise and rigor coupled with flexibility. I was just about to become a first-time father when I registered for the program, so I had to think more logistically about the opportunity. Because many of the GMP programs were offered virtually, it would allow me to complete the GMP without leaving home.”

Consisting of six open-enrollment programs, one each from finance and wealth management, leadership, marketing and analytics, and strategy and innovation, plus two electives, the GMP can be earned at your own pace over two years. Programs are offered online and on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus. While the typical participant attends about three programs a year, Simon Au Yeung, chief operating officer of Hash Blockchain Limited in Hong Kong, completed it in six months. “The virtual delivery was highly interactive, stimulating, and engaging,” he says. “In particular, the simulation games made me wide awake even after class at 3:30 a.m. (due to the time zone difference).”

The flexibility in terms of choosing from dozens of programs that run throughout the year, plus the awarding of alumni status upon completion, attracts executives like Greineisen and Yeung who are looking to update and expand their business acumen and leadership while juggling their work and personal life.

Humility is a superpower

Another common roadblock is a hesitancy about effort versus reward. Is the time and effort you put in going to have a direct and positive impact on your performance — both immediately and into the future? To maximize return on investment, Wharton personalizes and deepens the learning experience through executive coaching. Coaches not only help with program selection, but they work with participants to identify specific goals and then assess progress and readjust as needed. “The coaching was a really big selling point of the program,” says Greineisen. “The process put me under a microscope and helped me understand if I was thinking about different situations correctly. I learned a lot about my blind spots and how to better leverage my existing strengths.”

Performance is also enhanced by gaining cutting-edge knowledge from Wharton faculty, whose research and work with many of the world’s most innovative companies informs every classroom session. Greineisen says, “Filling in knowledge gaps in key areas has helped to improve my confidence, and the GMP was able to highlight additional contributions I have the potential to make at my organization. The corporate environment tends to reward perfection, and that often pressures executives into claiming they always have the right answer. An important takeaway from the GMP for me is that humility is a superpower. It takes guts to say, ‘I don’t know, it depends, but what I think is...’”

Out of your element

The pressure to be “perfect” and have all the answers, as Greineisen describes, makes leaders hesitant to acknowledge what they don’t know. And when everyone is feeling that pressure, organizational culture easily becomes an echo chamber in which new ideas are rarely acknowledged. Over time, it’s hard to see anything but the status quo — even if it’s not working very well. Getting even one senior executive out of that insulated environment, with a cohort of new peers who represent a range of industries, geographies, and cultures, can create powerful, positive change.

“When you’re in your work bubble,” Greineisen notes, “it can be challenging to maintain a broader perspective. The GMP provides you with an opportunity to get out of your day-to-day routine and to interact and see things from others’ point of view. It was refreshing to come together with an incredible group of executives and world-renowned professors and to share the challenges that we are all experiencing but to do so in an environment that encouraged openness and vulnerability.”

Encouraging vulnerability means you can attend a program like Finance and Accounting for the Non-Financial Manager with a class of accomplished leaders who acknowledge they don’t know how to read a financial statement. Greineisen says, “We unpacked complex frameworks in areas such as leadership and finance and I learned how to incorporate that new thinking into my current role. These are pivotal concepts that I will keep coming back to throughout my career. Each of the six programs [the others were Strategy and Management for Competitive Advantage, Strategic Marketing for Competitive AdvantagePrivate Equity: Investing and Creating ValueLeading through Challenging Times: From Crisis to Renewal , and Negotiation and Influence: Making Deals and Strategies Work] gave me individual skill sets that I am now applying.”

“Attending the GMP was 100 percent worth it,” he says. “Months later, I am still digesting a lot of what I took in. I am grateful for a few things: one, I was able to learn from some of the most well-respected business professors in the world, interacting and engaging in a one-on-one environment with them. Two, I got to work alongside and glean insights from a very diverse set of colleagues in terms of business functions, experience, and industries. Three, I learned more about myself, identifying areas for professional development (the 360 was incredible) and uncovering previously unseen strengths. Because of the GMP, I have more to contribute, I am open to new possibilities, and I am confident more doors will open.”