Experiential Learning: Our Approach to Leadership Development

In Leadership, MBA Students, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Students, Wharton on July 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Wharton turns leadership education on its head by giving students the test first, and then mining that test for learning and lessons.  Jeff Harmer, a 2006 MBA graduate, first said that to me when reflecting on his experiences as part of the Wharton Leadership Ventures and the Leadership Fellows program.  It’s a statement that has stayed with me for the past five years, and Jeff’s comment has, in many ways, shaped and guided my approach to leadership development.

The Wharton Leadership Program is at heart of the student experience, and the key word is “experience”.  Experiential learning shapes the courses and co-curricular programs that the Leadership Program delivers and supports.  At Wharton, students learn leadership by linking core academic concepts – influence, emotional intelligence, decision-making, and organizational awareness, for example – with hands-on experiences created specifically for Wharton students to test and acquire new skills.

From the wilderness expeditions of the Wharton Leadership Ventures to the community leadership projects and roles found in Management 100, the Non Profit Board Leadership Program, and the Social Enterprise Fellows, our programs create deep leadership roles imbued with meaning and peer-based learning and reflection.  Management 652, the Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership course that features the innovative Wharton Teamwork and Leadership Simulation, is the first course that incoming MBA students complete.  Every Undergraduate and MBA student completes coursework in leadership, communications, and ethics, and this commitment to leadership education has shaped the student experience for close to 20 years.

At Wharton, we believe that leadership development has three pillars, three steps that we ask every student to take.  First, undergraduates and MBA students must be students of leadership.  They must take courses, review current research, read books, and attend conferences.  In this way, each student participates in the co-creation of a leadership vocabulary and dialogue with the students, staff, and faculty of the School.  Next, students must build a community of peers, coaches, and mentors.  Active engagement with personal learning communities allows the Wharton student to seek and receive direct feedback about their behaviors and impacts, and to understand the gaps in perception and understanding and their causes.  The first two pillars are necessary to achieve optimal impact in any of our Leadership Programs, one of many leadership roles and experiences available to every Wharton student.  The third step for students is to seek and accept stretch experiences.  For the Wharton Leadership Program, this pillar is really the key.  It guides our approach to program design and leadership development.

Our experiential programs place students in new environments, create new teams to accomplish new goals, and require students to learn new skills.  Every experience is followed by personal and team-based reflection, and the assumptions, decisions, and impacts of each student are analyzed.  Through this appreciative and discovery-based process, students develop their own self-awareness while building the authentic skills necessary to succeed in future team and organizational environments.

I invite you to explore our new website and learn more about our programs.  For Wharton students, alumni, and executive clients – we hope to see you in one of our programs or courses soon!

All the best,

Jeff Klein
Director, Graduate Leadership Program


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