Soon after becoming president of a university, Rebecca recognized that many of the senior leaders, while extraordinarily accomplished and capable in their fields of study, hadn’t developed some important leadership skills that the institution needed to meet its ambitious goals. Each leader needed to set a vision for their area, communicate it to their team, delegate more effectively, deliver and receive feedback well, and learn how to navigate both ambiguity and conflict.
Rebecca’s mission was to help these senior leaders become even more effective. She knew that off-the-shelf leadership workshops wouldn’t be tailored to what her leaders needed. She also wanted to find a solution that would help them strengthen their relationships with each another.
The Boda approach
Rebecca turned to The Boda Group. After spending some time assessing the specific challenges and opportunities the leaders faced, Rebecca and the Boda team determined that a customized Leader Forum was the right, pragmatic approach. They decided on a yearlong program. The leaders would meet for a half day once a month with two Boda coaches to focus on learning and practicing leadership skills and working through the leaders’ real-life obstacles.
The skill building sessions covered topics such as coaching skills, navigating difficult conversations, leveraging style differences, communicating effectively, and giving and receiving feedback. In addition, each Forum meeting included two or three leadership challenge discussions (LCDs). In each LCD, one leader presented a specific challenge they were facing; the other leaders and the two Boda coaches helped them think through what was happening, how they were reacting, and options they might pursue. These LCDs were also a time for the leaders to share feedback with each another and connect their individual challenges back to their leadership strengths and development areas. Many of the leaders reported that this was the only place where they were receiving candid, constructive feedback.
In addition to the monthly Forum meetings, each leader completed assignments and worked individually with a coach. The assignments ranged from reading a leadership book or reflecting on a particularly difficult situation, to practicing a new skill or following through on a plan that emerged from their LCD. In their individual work with their coach, each leader explored the personal implications of their learning in the Forum meetings and incorporated the important takeaways for their own leadership.
The first year of the Leader Forum helped the leaders shift from accomplished scholars in their individual areas to more seasoned, confident senior leaders. Instead of avoiding difficult situations, they received support from their peers and faced those situations head on. The leaders reported heightened awareness and a more robust toolkit of strategies and tactics that they could leverage as necessary. When a very prominent colleague was asked to leave the university, the leaders pulled together and helped the institution navigate the challenging transition. With stronger leadership in place, the university started an ambitious capital campaign and added a satellite campus.
Rebecca attributed much of this success to the impact of the Leader Forum: “Most of the major accomplishments we’ve made in this last year would not have been possible with the old way of leading. The Leader Forum helped us fundamentally shift not just the leadership knowledge, but more importantly the leadership behaviors of our most senior leaders. It has made a world of difference.”