Farmhand - Stanford GSB 2008

An insiders view of the Stanford GSB class of 2008

Location: Stanford, United States

hitching a ride across the galaxy with my towel

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stanford GSB in WSJ

How Stanford Is Grooming Next Business Leaders
May 29, 2007; Page B6

When Stanford University's Graduate School of Business launches a new M.B.A. curriculum in the fall, leadership development will receive more attention than ever before. To expand its leadership program, Stanford recruited Evelyn Williams from the University of Chicago, where she was faculty chair for Leadership Effectiveness and Development, after a career in human resources and management development. Ms. Williams, director of Stanford's Center for Leadership Development and Research Leadership Laboratories, talked this month with M.B.A. Track columnist Ron Alsop about the growing emphasis on leadership at Stanford and other schools.

WSJ: We've all heard that expression, "He's a born leader." Is leadership really an innate talent or is it something anyone can master with practice?

Ms. Williams: Psychologists have been debating this nature vs. nurture issue for a long time. I think leadership is a combination of both. Just as some musicians have a special talent for playing an instrument, some people seem to be born with leadership abilities. But whatever their natural talent, people certainly can learn to be better musicians -- and better leaders.

But isn't leadership more difficult to teach than, say, accounting?

Leadership is definitely teachable, but it is different than teaching more analytical or technical skills. While students learn fundamental concepts in both leadership and accounting classes, there's an art to leadership that is more personal. Students must become incredibly self-aware and reflective as they discover their personal leadership style and how to inspire other people. I see students make huge transformational changes. To prevent weak behaviors from becoming ingrained, they learn how to change their communication style or their emotional responses.

Corporate recruiters have criticized M.B.A. programs for turning out managers, not leaders. Why haven't schools done a better job with leadership development?

There's been a real tug in business schools between intellectual rigor and practical application. But you really need both for leadership development. In the last year or two, I think we've seen the calibration shift toward the more practical side. At Stanford, we bring in executives who candidly tell their war stories from the corporate trenches, and we're putting students through leadership simulations and other exercises. During their two years at Stanford, students will go through a number of self-assessments to measure their progress in becoming more effective leaders, and they'll be mentored by second-year M.B.A. "leadership fellows," faculty advisers, leadership coaches and alumni.

Other business schools say they too are focusing more on leadership training. How will Stanford differentiate itself?

I believe our program is taking leadership to a new level. While Stanford has always been academically rigorous, we're telling entering students they had better bring moxie to class because we're really going to test their leadership mettle. They can't bring their laptops and day trade in the back of the classroom. We'll put them in very challenging lab simulations that will be more realistic than a typical case study. Things won't be laid out neatly in a written case, and solutions won't be clear. Students will be given some accurate information about the particular situation, some misinformation and some irrelevant information. And we have trained facilitators -- second-year M.B.A. students -- who will get unruly and give negative feedback if students don't handle the situations well.

What kind of situations will students face in your leadership lab?

A good example is the plant-closing simulation. More than likely students will someday have to lay folks off; it's just a reality of a manager's career. By simulating what it's going to feel like in the classroom, we can help them be more thoughtful when it occurs for real. This particular simulation is intense because the M.B.A. students feel the emotional struggle. They see the huge emotional issues involved in laying people off when they have babies on the way and big mortgages to pay. You're never going to feel good about making layoffs, but we want to teach students to make decisions that are fair and will allow them to sleep at night.

Will students interact with corporate executives in the leadership program?

Yes, students will participate in the "executive challenge," taking on executive roles and being judged by senior alumni. For instance, two students will play the CEO and president of a company, pitching a manufacturing acquisition target to four board members. This manufacturing company is rife with challenges, from asbestos-laden plants to a large union pension-plan liability. Alumni will play board members with conflicting priorities, some representing a green fund and others having major issues with the acquisition parameters.

Is it more important that business schools focus on leadership today than in the past?

Leaders today are under the microscope more than ever with instantaneous communication and new media like podcasts and YouTube, so we need to prepare M.B.A. students for this more difficult world. We videotape all our simulations to help students remember and reflect on how they behaved, as well as get them used to the intense scrutiny they will likely face in this digital age. Students also need to be prepared for a world where they're probably not going to get a lot of mentoring and leadership training on the job. Organizations have become flatter, and middle managers who could once help a young M.B.A. aren't there anymore.

Given the shortage of women in executive and board positions, are you taking any special steps to groom women M.B.A.s for leadership roles?

Having worked in the corporate world, I can certainly see that there are more strains on women in leadership. When kids get sick, even if they have a very caring father, they ask for mommy. While we aren't customizing the program for women, it's important that we discuss such work/life stress. We try to educate students about studies on biases so that as leaders themselves, they can see beyond surface characteristics and help others see beyond them as well. And in our simulations, women get honest feedback about how they are perceived. It's often hard to get such honesty in a politically correct workplace, but the classroom is a safer place to discuss behavior and perceptions. If a woman is speaking in a soft voice or using qualifying language like "sort of," "I kind of think" or "you know," she will see how it undermines the power of her words and affects perceptions of how confident she is as a leader.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude I can't believe they sic'ed LEAD on you guys! At Chicago the program is taught by 2nd year 'facilitators' and despite all the incentives that come with it for the facilitators (2 courses off etc.), applications to become LEAD facilitators have been dropping faster than our presidential candidate's husband's trousers. Nothing says 'loser' more loudly than 'lead facilitator'. I am sorry for the incoming class man, I really am.

8:19 PM  

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