One of the few advantages that I have found to be associated with aging, however, is that sometimes people ask for your opinions, and then actually listen. This happened to me recently, when a friend and colleague -- Ellie Weldon -- from both IMD and CEIBS days, who is presently at CEIBS as both Professor and Academic Director of Custom Executive Education Programs, asked me to reflect on several topics regarding ExecEd. I thought that the questions, and the opportunity to reflect on accumulated experience, were interesting enough to publish here in a slightly extended format, so here goes -- the questions are Ellie's, and the responses, for better or worse, are my own:
a. Looking back over your career, can you identify events that had a significant impact on the way you design and deliver Executive Education? What were those events, and what did you learn?
Yes, for sure! In the beginning of my career, the events that (now, in hindsight) really impacted me had to do with getting opportunities to try things -- to be given a cameo spots in a program to see what I could do, and, of course, being mentored by some real veterans of Exec Ed classrooms. What's interesting about your question is that I have really never reflected upon this before, but now that I do what I see is that the invitations to participate at a relatively early age in my career were extremely important for building confidence and encouraging greater synergy between ExecEd needs and my own research efforts. I was extremely fortunate to be at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [now Kenan-Flagler] at a time when people such as Dick Levin, John Pringle, CL Kendall and Nanti Meyer, and the like were really quite innovative in their ExecEd designs. This extended to the younger program directors, as well, such as Jay Klompmacher, Bill Bigoness and Les Garner [Young Executives Institute & Government Executives Institute, respectively].
As I matured and developed broad functional themes (Operations Strategy, Innovation Management, & China), I received invitations to do theme-based blocks or even programs at schools such as Carnegie-Mellon (PFE for Bob Dalton), USC (IBEAR for Jack Lewis), UCLA's Anderson School (George Yip), and Duke (Warren Baunach & Jean Hauser). These opportunities really introduced me to program design, which I had not previously been responsible for, and since some of these engagements lasted for 10-12 years, there was a real learning opportunity to develop course architecture and to bring-in partners.
Finally, I think that at IMD when I really took on significant Program Directorship roles, that that really has been the most significant learning experience. To work with Mike Stanford and his colleagues in Partnership Programs, and to be involved with a client early in the relationship and to then develop an effective learning response is something that provides a sort of end-to-end perspective on each individual part of the executive development experience. Andy Boynton [now Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management] was a huge influence at this point in my life. Andy is a genius at the “choreography of the classroom” and the opportunity to watch him, and work closely with him, has been a constant source of insight and learning. For many years, Andy and I did a stream of “two-men shows” where we were both always in the classroom, playing off of each other. That, for me, was an amazing opportunity to try things with the assurance that someone else was along-side in case the experiment went wrong.
b. In your own view, what makes you successful as an Executive Education professor?
Hopefully, I am successful. But there are three things that I think any success that I have had can be attributed to:
1. A real sense of what my own professional mission is. In our recent book The Idea Hunter, Andy and I talk about “knowing your gig”: knowing what you are really trying to accomplish. Late in life, I figured this out and it has changed my world. In the process of writing Virtuoso Teams (again, with Andy), I discovered that my gig was really all about fighting against talent-diminishment. At the same time, my work with Charlie Fine [MIT-Sloan] in co-directing our joint IMD/MIT Driving Strategic Innovation program opened my eyes to some real principles of innovation. I now have put my gig together with these innovation principles and I try to practice them in each and every opportunity that I have. Interestingly, these principles are mostly about “process” rather than “content”. What distinguishes my approach to executive education today is no longer solely about my opinions about what the participants should learn, but more about how they should master it: co-creation, more conversations rather than less, more participants talking rather than me, prototyping, experimenting well before the program rather than only during our time together, pull rather than push, etc.all make for a more effective learning experience for all involved --me included!
2. A belief that my role is no longer to be the “purveyor of truth” but rather, instead, to serve as a “smart person facilitating smarter people.” This is not easy. It defies decades of professorial prerogatives and requires a willingness to cede control over the classroom experience to the participants, but it is a sober and realistic admission that the people in our executive education classrooms know a lot, are smart people, and should own the experience. My role, then, is to put them into a position where it is their program and not my own.That is not to say that I abdicate my responsibilities as an "instructor" or as someone whose job it is to observe many different managers and businesses, and to draw opinions from these experiences, but the emphasis should be on applying this knowledge to move the participants' conversations forward, rather than "dazzling" them with what I think that I know.
3. A facility with ambiguity. I thrive in ambiguity and if you are experimenting while simultaneously ceding control, there is often a lot of ambiguity to deal with. For me, that’s a challenge, but you also need to be mindful that your client [or faculty colleagues] don’t perceive this as “disorganization.”
4. Allow me a fourth: I’ve been consistently fortunate throughout my career to be at institutions, and working for Deans and with senior faculty, where Executive Education is seen as a legitimate and important part of the school’s mission. That has made everything else so much easier.
c. In your own view, what can be done to help other professors develop the skills they need to be successful in Executive Education? What advice would you give them?
1. We all need to figure our who we are and what we wish to accomplish with respect to the audiences that we deal with. Knowing “your gig” is an amazingly powerful advantage for addressing executive education.
2. More institutions need to emphasize Executive Education not only in their revenue portfolios but also in their criteria for faculty attraction, retention and development. To separate “knowledge creation” from “knowledge delivery”, especially to a client group that is in such great need for better managerial insights, makes no sense.
3. Those of us who are no longer novices need to invite younger faculty into the mix, in order to give them a start on their own development.
4. And, I think that we need to celebrate and reward Executive Education successes in much the same way that we would celebrate a new book or scholarly achievement.When I now read this over, what strikes me is how important the generosity and mentorship of others has been as an element of my own good fortune. I always knew that this was true in my research and writing efforts, as I had great mentors all along the way, but I guess I never realized before how important all those offerings of opportunities were on the "teaching" side of my career as well. My hope is now that I've realized this, that I can be more proactive myself in creating opportunities for the next generation, as a way of repaying those who made the effort to help me.