Stanford GSB Launches New LEAD Certificate

A screenshot from inside the virtual reality auditorium on Stanford’s avatar campus

Call it part executive education, part computer game. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business announced the launch of its new Stanford LEAD: Personal Leadership Certificate today (February 28) and gave members of the media a taste of what program participants can expect. Hint: an entirely new level of online executive education. Participants create avatars that are eerily similar to their actual appearance and tour around a virtual reality campus modeled off Stanford’s real one in Palo Alto, California, including some distinct features of the GSB’s campus, which has palm trees and is seemingly sunny every day.

Alan Lambert, the head of Global Management Programs for French oil company Total, played tour guide. A graduate of the Stanford LEAD: Corporate Innovation Certificate program, Lambert’s avatar showed off dance moves and claps before taking Poets&Quants around the campus and discussing his experience within the program and how it helped him rise in the ranks at Total. The year-long Personal Leadership Certificate is modeled off the three-year-old Corporate Innovation Certificate, which has already graduated five cohorts.

“This program will develop leaders who are compassionate, courageous, and curious, and who exhibit the humility necessary for continued growth,” Sarah Soule, the faculty director of the new Personal Leadership Certificate program, said in a release sent from the school.

“Personal leadership is best learned through dynamic interactions with others. What’s exciting about this new program is that we’ve developed a curriculum that is hands-on, spans multiple time zones, and bridges physical distance to fully engage participants in an experiential learning environment.”

A screenshot of a workspace for certificate students


Both certificate programs, which are each a year-long and operate on a quarter system, include live virtual classroom sessions in the virtual reality classrooms with the avatars. They also include interactive group projects and collaborative experiences. The virtual reality campus features many meeting places, white boards where participants can type notes so all group members can see, and private bubble-looking pods for meetings. Members of Stanford’s senior faculty that teach in the full-time MBA and other executive programs teach the certificate courses and the curriculum model is designed in a way to be applicable in jobs immediately after class sessions and group projects.

According to Peter DeMarzo, the faculty director of Stanford LEAD, since the program launched in 2015, more than 95% of each cohort has completed the program, and participants have joined from nearly 70 different countries. Bot Lambert and another alumni tour guide, Meghna Punhani, who is a chief of staff at Google, gushed about how the lessons in the certificate programs coincided with challenges they were facing in their daily professional lives.

“The LEAD certificate has expanded my mind and made me more intentional in the way I make decisions on a day-to-day basis,” Ashita Saluja, a Global Go-to-Market Manager at Salesforce Immersion and certificate alum also said in the school’s prepared release. “Most importantly, it made me realize business is really about people. All the graphs, all the spreadsheet — that’s all really important, but when you put the people at the center of the business, that’s when you have a chance to do something different.”


Inside a classroom

Before starting the program, students will receive a leadership proficiency evaluation using the GSB’s proprietary 360-degrees feedback model. Then, the structure of the new certificate program will resemble the veteran program where students may choose two courses each quarter after completing the first quarter, which requires Foundations of Leadership and Values Based Leadership to be completed. Course students may pick from range in topics from managing difficult conversations to making sound decisions to handling crises and using story for impact.

After graduating with the certificate, participants will also receive 24 continuing education units to use for re-certification, professional development, or tuition reimbursement from their employer. A price tag was not given with the announcement of the program, but the Corporate Innovation Certificate, which the program is based off of is $19,000. Applications are open now till August 8, 2018 for a September 12 start.

“Effective leadership begins with self-awareness and taking the perspective of others. These are essential components of leading with purpose and impact,” Soule said in a prepared statement. “The LEAD model is well suited for developing these leadership competencies because it brings together participants from around the globe to share an immersive learning experience that mirrors the rigor and richness of our on-campus programs.”