To “transform how leaders lead” and strengthen southeastern Wisconsin’s corps of emerging executives, Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) and the Innovative Leadership Institute are piloting an experiential, customized approach to leadership development with an emphasis on real world application.
Through the Leadership Development Program, launched in June by WCTC’s Center for Business Performance Solutions and the Innovative Leadership Institute, instructors Christine McMahon and Joseph Weitzer, Ph.D., aim to equip emerging leaders with tools and skills needed to meet companies’ performance expectations.
While McMahon, a business strategist and a columnist for BizTimes Milwaukee, and Weitzer, dean of the Center for Business Performance Solutions, will incorporate class meetings and one-on-one coaching into the format of their program, much of their approach to leadership development will defy traditional learning models.
“In a lot of learning programs that you participate in, you have materials that you have to learn and absorb and then you have to figure out, ‘How do I apply it in my world?'” McMahon said. “In our program, we’re immersing (participants) in the real world so the ‘a-ha’ moment happens when they take the journey inward.”
The Leadership Development Program, targeted toward professionals likely to move into higher executive positions as well as leaders who are underperforming, will walk participants through an experience-based immersion process to gain firsthand perspective on basic leadership principles.
The 12-month program, capped at about eight participants, will push emerging leaders to identify and examine leadership tenets through the lens of their own workplace experiences. By discussing leadership competencies within the context of their own environments, emerging leaders will remain grounded in the real world while absorbing a diversity of perspectives and engaging in a continuum of self-reflection.
“Through our guided discussions and interactions, they’re going to raise (leadership principles) on their own,” Weitzer said. “We’re going to get them there.”
Part of the honing process will require program participants to reframe their focus in order to accelerate the learning process during individual experiences.
“A lot of what they learn they learn by doing and making mistakes around,” Weitzer said. “The problem is that learning isn’t happening fast enough. So if I make a mistake I could move past it simply because it just happened, or I can learn from it. But if I’m not focused on the right piece of learning, I don’t develop as a leader and I’m more likely to make that mistake again.”
The program’s curriculum comprises 32 pre-developed learning modules zeroing in on critical leadership topics such as effective and persuasive communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, negotiations, and presentation strategies.
Emerging leaders likely won’t cover all 32 modules as McMahon and Weitzer tailor learning outcomes to individual participants to propel them forward with the rest of the group. They will also customize learning outcomes to fulfill the expectations of participants’ companies.
“So when (participants) go back to their organization, we’re not teaching them something the organization doesn’t support,” Weitzer said. “We’re teaching it in alignment with what that organization is expecting of their leaders.”
To identify the needs of both companies and program participants, McMahon and Weitzer have created an initial assessment that surveys organizational leadership about the dynamics of their operations and potential participants about their leadership abilities and aspirations.
“Through the assessment that we do upfront, we’re going to be designing the curriculum to meet the unique developmental needs of the participants,” McMahon said. “So every one of our leadership development programs will be different because it’s going to be based upon what they need.”
The assessment, phase one of four, also helps determine if an individual is an optimal match for the Leadership Development Program. The established phases round out with Authentic Leadership Architecture, Transformation and Integration, at which point emerging leaders take their lessons back to the boardroom.
To ensure each participant receives constant support throughout their personal leadership development, they will be paired with a mentor from within their organization. Mentors, selected and counseled by McMahon and Weitzer, will act as another resource for emerging leaders as they attempt to implement learning modules into the workplace.
“From the organization, itself, they still have responsibility to help this leader develop,” Weitzer said. “They play a role, a very significant role, in that development.”
The Leadership Development Program forms the first pillar in a broader leadership initiative to bolster innovation and support organizational development as a whole. The initiative was born from a series of needs assessments conducted by WCTC’s Center for Business Performance Solutions that highlighted a demand for quality, skilled leaders in the region’s business sector.
McMahon and Weitzer plan to roll out a second stage of the initiative, titled the Innovative Leadership Institute, that focuses on strategies to mold an innovative leader. They will also roll out a third stage exploring ways organizations can pivot to embrace innovation as part of their corporate culture.
Both stages, which will likely be available in 2014, are rooted in exceptional leadership.
“You can’t have innovation without good, solid leadership,” Weitzer said. “You can’t have good organizational structure that’s sustainable without good leadership. Our approach here is, ‘Let’s build a cohort of strong leaders.'”
The Leadership Development Program, which reinforces the Center for Business Performance Solutions’ mission to help companies build a strong workforce and advance productivity, costs $2,900 per participant. The program will debut its first formalized session this August with a second following in October. For more information, visit www.wctc.edu/cbps.