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Career-Defining Executive Education

Cranfield launches four experiential programs focused on the key transition points on the journey from executive to senior leadership


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The Brexit impasse far from holding UK business back from the critical task of developing leadership potential seems to be intensifying it – if a recent event at Chelsea Football ground is anything to go by.  

Attended by 50 delegates from a range of UK companies and not-for-profits, some seeking personal development but the majority L&D professionals considering opportunities for their organizations, this lively event launched four new leadership programs to be delivered by Cranfield School of Management during 2019 and beyond.

An innovator in the evolution of executive education for over 40 years, Cranfield School of Management has designed this refreshed portfolio of programs to embrace a complete move away from ‘chalk and talk’ towards experiential learning or ‘learning by doing’ – while at the same time enhancing knowledge and awareness development needs through the use of technology and personal development through sophisticated coaching.

A unique aspect of the portfolio is its comprehensive four-stage coverage, concentrating on the development needs of people at four career-defining transition points, with these four programs:

1. Talent Development – For early career high-potential executives to develop a managerial perspective and leadership capability

2. General Management – For functional managers moving up to cross-functional, multi-stakeholder, leadership

3. Into Director – For experienced managers becoming directors and C-suite senior leaders

4. Purpose– An ‘experience’ for CEOs and senior leaders to cultivate a more meaningful outlook, legacy and lifestyle

With productivity levels in the UK on average 16% below its G7 counterparts, the leadership training and development challenge for the UK is becoming ever more urgent. The delegates at the Chelsea venue reflected some of the leadership issues that lie behind this urgency.

Representing diverse enterprises from the Army and London Transport to pharmaceutical and construction companies, to professional firms and financial institutions, delegates mentioned a variety of training and development challenges they faced, including: fostering digital transformation and innovation, cultivating talent-pipelines, transitioning specialists into general management, reinvigorating existing internal leadership programs, improving strategic and operational alignment, promoting gender diversity, breaking down silos, and helping millennials step up to management.

The delegates that spoke to IEDP saw the development of leadership talent and the accelerated advancement of high-potential employees as key to solving these challenges and the general enthusiasm generated by the Chelsea event suggested they saw Cranfield’s executive education offering as a valuable contribution.

This is what we learnt about the suite of four programs:

Talent Development – This first program is for aspiring managers, already doing well in a functional role, who have strong leadership potential. To set the scene, Portfolio Director Camilla Jonsson, described three fictitious people (an ambitious young high-flyer, a solid long-term performer, and an unassuming but able technical expert) and asked delegates which two of these they would choose to put on the program and how they would treat the disappointed third candidate. This exercise highlighted the career defining nature of this program, its focus on the transition from an operational to a managerial role, and how both hard and soft skills would need to be developed for any of these candidates to step up to leadership.

The program kicks off with an assessment of the participants’ level of ability and knowledge, delivered by Mercuri Urval, which helps participants refine their personal objectives and Cranfield faculty build a tailored experience for each individual. It also establishes a rapport between participants and Mercuri Urval who provide ongoing coaching support through the program. As with the next two programs, the first module is delivered via a virtual learning platform where participants and faculty connect and engage in business simulations.

General Management Program – The successful transition of high-performing line managers and functional leaders up to senior leadership is both critical to an organization's future success and pivotal in any individual executive’s career. It is a difficult shift to make – one which the program's director Paula Broadbent described as leaving a safe haven, crossing a choppy sea and the arriving at a new safe shore. Many fail and too many are pushed into leadership almost by accident. The philosophy behind this essential program starts with a deep dive into understanding self and where necessary adjusting one’s approach, it then moves to understanding others, how to influence them and build followership. Onto this is built understanding the organizational and business context and then the skills required to appreciate the needs and manage the demands of multiple stakeholders.

The coaching aspect provided by Mercuri Urval here is important in balancing the implementation of business challenges and the participant's personal growth as a leader. As with the two adjacent programs the opening module is conducted remotely and is followed by two five-day residential modules and then a one-day face-to-face review at Cranfield. Finally, there is a follow up review conducted remotely; in all providing ongoing development support across a 12-month period.

Into Director – Taking a different approach to other advanced leadership programs or programs around board structure and governance, this unique program focuses specifically on what it means to become a director. Either a legal director, who as someone pointed out could face going to gaol, or an operational director with whom a specific buck must stop. Introducing the program Professor Lance Moir stressed three important characteristics of the director’s role which differentiate ‘directing’ from ‘managing’. First the importance of ‘delegating’ rather than ‘doing’ appreciating what to let go and how to build trust in and from sub-ordinates; secondly understanding the wider business/organizational context so as to contribute to the highest levels of strategic decision making; and thirdly the critical ability to be able to communicate strategic vision through the organization and to other stakeholders – communication not only through conversations and media but by personally embodying the culture and values of the organization.

Purpose – Describing this as an ‘experience’ rather than a program, Mark Threlfall, Director of Cranfield Executive Development, explained the genesis of this unique offering which came to fruition after many years speaking with CEOs and PLC board directors who after years in high-profile corporate environments have felt the need to reassess their priorities as they look to the future. Using ‘nature’ as a catalyst, participants are taken out of their urban office world to a rural environment – in the Lake District – not to embark on some Bear Grylls type endurance session, but to engage in deep reflection and dialogue in the company of their peers. Immersion in nature fosters learning and development that through space, stillness, and contemplation helps participants face up-to some challenging and sometimes uncomfortable truths and influences what Threlfall describes as their “being-level capacities.”

At a time when the impact of business on society and the environment is under the spotlight organizations and their leaders need to place greater emphasis on alleviating society ills. The Purpose experience provides an opportunity for senior leaders to fulfil this greater purpose, using their wisdom, perspective and influence to act with values and courage for the benefit of future generations and society as a whole. So, as well as benefitting the individual participant, Purpose can also contribute to an organization’s desire to fulfil a wider pro-social role.

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The Chelsea event emphasised how Cranfield’s new portfolio of programs, by stressing immersive and experiential learning, ensures new theoretical knowledge is applied and immediately relevant to the real world, so that the learning experience has a long-term impact not only for the individual but for the organization too. This is underpinned by Cranfield’s commitment to following-up and working with client organizations to support program participants in bringing new ideas and new practices that have a direct positive impact in their workplaces.

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Learn more about the Cranfield General Management portfolio HERE

Thinking: brilliantly applied for the decade ahead

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