Leading Change

Author: Molly Rand, GEd’13

Can leadership be taught? Is it natural or acquired?

Last Wednesday, during our first day of the Ivy Plus conference, attendees listened to Wharton Professor Michael Useem explore these questions and discuss the characteristics of a great leader. According to Useem, for most people, the skill of leadership is actually acquired. Useem is the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management; Editor of the Wharton Leadership Digest; and the Director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management – so he knows a thing or two about leadership.

A primary focus of the day’s lecture was about leadership during times of change. According to Useem, good leaders do the following things during these times:

  1. Honor the room
  2. Remain both optimistic and realistic about the future
  3. Maintain a team environment – “we are all in this together”

To test out the audience’s ability of putting knowledge to practice, Useem called up one fellow conference attendee from MIT to engage in a leadership role-playing exercise. Robert, shown below, did a fantastic job as he took on the role of a new CEO leading a company merger. The company that Robert was hypothetically taking over had thousands of concerned employees, all fearful of what this change meant for their future.

Throughout this exercise, Useem reiterated the importance of two key elements that any leader in this position would want to achieve with his or her new employees: “you want them to work harder, and you want them to stay.” To do so, one might revisit Useem’s three-step check list above.

I’d like to recognize Robert from MIT for giving one very convincing, and entertaining, performance!Useem with Robert - picture 1

In closing, I will leave you with a final quote from last week’s talk on Leading Change

“Many people ask: is leadership an individual or team sport? My answer is YES.” – Michael Useem

Useem - picture 2

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