Executive/Leadership Development

Many organizations have formal programs to develop their current and future executives/leaders.  There are many different approaches to accomplishing this.  Some simply have employees use a 360-feedback tool to receive feedback on their performance for their development.  Typically, this is followed with a development plan and often with coaching.  Other tools used to develop executives are having multiple mentors and by rotational job assignments.

Some of the more sophisticated organizations have their own universities to develop executives.  Albert A. Vicere (1998), Professor of Business Administration at Penn State University, developed an innovative program that blended real life business issues in real-time, training, and education.  This program also focused on continuous learning and developing networks in the company.  One of the key learning assignments of this program is having the executives work in a group as internal consultants.  Their client is  an unrelated department within the same company.  The culmination of the assignment is a presentation of the group’s recommendations to their employees.  The plan is usually implemented.  This gives the employees a real time business opportunity to apply their skills.  It also helps them learn more about their own company.  In addition, it helps the company solve important problems while saving them money because they do not have to hire an outside consultant.  Further, it helps develop many relationships within the company.  To enhance these relationships the education center has reunions to help people keep in touch with their colleagues (Vicere, 1998).

Community of Practices

A community of practice is a network of employees across an organization that shares knowledge in order to better serve the customer.  This is a successful way to create an environment of learning while working because employees are transferring their knowledge to others on the job.  Since the term has been coined, OD practitioners have been trying to leverage the concept to enhance learning.  This can be done in a number of ways.  One is strategically creating networking opportunities so people can learn who knows what and start to build relationships with each other.

Community of practices is often used when creating knowledge management systems.  It is best to match the purpose of the knowledge management system with the right type of community of practices.  There are four types of community of practices:

 

Highly focused and structured

Loosely focused structured

Centralized

Type I

Type II

Decentralized

Type III

Type IV

(Baird, 1998).

Today one of the more popular types of communities of practices is the knowledge community.  A knowledge community is a group of people who share a similar interest, but are not directly competing.  For example Mitchell and Company, a management-consulting firm, has founded knowledge community called Share Price Growth 100.  The group’s purpose is to swap knowledge on how to improve stock price.  Companies in the group are all from different industries.  They meet a couple of times during the year to swap their best practices and discuss ideas and problems with each other.  Boston University runs similar groups: the Executive Development Roundtable and the Human Resource Policy Institute.

Another application of community of practices involves mapping the relationships in a community of practice in order to locate key people, the pattern of information flow, the bottlenecks, and discover how are people are perceived.  A computer software program called social networking analysis can do this mapping  (interview, May 16, 1999).

Improving an Employee’s Ability to Learn

There are several ways to improve employee’s ability to learn.  One is by helping people see how their defensive routines prevent them from learning.  Chris Argyris (1991), a Harvard professor, has done a lot of work in this area.  He feels the most important type of learning a person can do is to ask himself what he did to contribute to the situation.  His research indicated that most people are trained by society to avoid this type of self-examination during difficult situations because they feel embarrassed and find it threatening.  Instead they become defensive and blame others (Argyris, 1991).

Argyris (1991) believes that when exploring the reasons for failure, the universal human tendency is to use four basic values.  These are to retain unilateral control, to maximize winning and minimize losing, to suppress negative feelings, and to be as rational as possible.  The use of these values leads to the defensive reasoning that encourages individuals to keep private the premises, inferences, and conclusions that shape their behavior and to avoid testing them in a truly independent, objective fashion.   

Helping people be less defensive involves showing them the patterns of their behavior that are preventing them from learning and challenging them to make their reasoning explicit and to look at their reasoning objectively.  It is important to make sure people understand that challenging one’s reasoning is not a sign of mistrust, but a valuable learning opportunity.  As Argyris (1991) says, “Learning to reason productively can be emotional – even painful, but the payoff is great” (p.107). 

Another way one can enhance his/her learning is to improve what Dan Goleman (1995) coined “Emotional Intelligence."  Emotional Intelligence is set of competencies that help one master themselves (Personal Competence) and their interactions with people (Social Competence) (Goleman book, 1998).  It would be helpful for companies to learn these emotional intelligences on an organizational and individual level as they can lead to enhanced productivity.  I believe enhancing emotional intelligence on an individual level enhances one’s ability to learn.  For example, a person with improved self-confidence would likely take more risks, which would help him/her learn.  It would also help him/her present him/herself with more “presence”, which will make others more confident in them and give them more opportunities to try new things.  These new experiences will help the person learn.  Improved self confidence will also allow the person voice unpopular points of view, which challenge others.  These challenges will often lead to deeper conversations that both parties can learn from.

Another example of an emotional intelligence is improved conflict management skills.  Good conflict management helps one maintain relationships during tense moments.  The more relationships one has the more people he/she has to learn from.  People with this skill also encourage debate and open discussion.  This form of interpersonal interaction is often one of the best ways to learn (Goleman book, 1998).

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Jonathan Mozenter 87 Brighton Ave #1  Allston, MA  02134

617-254-9796  (w)  954-212-8221 (fax)  jonathan.mozenter.1999@alum.bu.edu