For years, we’ve been told about turning into better leaders by delegating to team members, communicating with them, giving them the freedom to fail. We’ve been confronted by an endless array of books: Leadership 101, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, The Mentor Leader. Then, of course, there’s the self-grading of competencies and the 360-degree feedback HR departments began subjecting executives to as part of performance reviews in the 1990s.
So when Kellogg School of Management announced that, owing to a partnership with headhunting firm Korn/Ferry, its Executive MBA curriculum would now include the Executive Career Acceleration Program component, a leadership training initiative that would serve as a “cutting-edge and unprecedented opportunity for executive grade leadership development,” it begged a question or two. Is there really that much new insight to offer about leadership? And could it truly make a difference?
“In some ways you have to wonder whether leadership can really be taught,” says Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California. “Some people are good at looking at a blank slate and envisioning the future, and some people are not.”
The Kellogg program, known as ECAP for short, encompasses a self-assessment test for grading competencies, a 360 review by peers, and one-on-one sessions with Korn/Ferry coaches who normally work with C-suite executives.
According to Kellogg EMBA student Michael Lee, what separates ECAP from conventional leadership teachings is its departure from the one-size-fits-all approach espoused in typical business best-sellers. “ECAP recognizes that there are tenets of leadership that apply at different times,” says Lee, an economist and former strategy adviser and speech writer at IBM. “We’re developing as the kind of leaders we want to be in different situations.”
The program also helps develop skills from the standpoint of their personal career goals, Lee says. “A lot of times at employers, rating competencies is built around helping the organization, not self-analysis,” Lee says. “I think there’s a disconnect between the individual and the company in that way.”
Adnan Rukieh, director of career services for Kellogg School of Management’s EMBA program, describes the ECAP as something of a connection between the holistic approach to leadership provided by the school and the corporate approach fostered by Korn/Ferry’s consulting arm. The Kellogg Career Management Center devised the program along with Dean Sally Blount, Kellogg’s Management and Organizations Department, and Korn/Ferry, which came up with the 27 competencies for the student assessments.
“The competencies are part of Korn/Ferry’s database,” Rukieh says. “They’ve been tracking these all around the world for 30 years.” Korn/Ferry, renowned as an executive search firm, helped develop the program with an eye toward executive retention.
“Too often in the past, a search firm would place an executive and then the process would end,” says Stuart Kaplan, global COO of leadership and talent consulting at Korn/Ferry in San Francisco. “But often the company needs a new C-suite executive because there’s been a disruption in the company. The new executive is facing a different situation from the one the old executive did. There are going to be gaps in skill sets, which is why these competencies are so important.”