Wharton leadership digest

By Kate Faber, Coordinator, Wharton Leadership Program

You don’t need to write names on your palms anymore. You won’t have to tuck that index card up your sleeve to recall who’s on your board, in your class, or on your schedule. And you can stop calling every person in your company “dude.” If you’re having trouble recalling names, your memory isn’t bad, it just needs a bit of training. With his engaging and persuasive style, Benjamin Levy shares his tactics for expanding your internal Rolodex so you can remember every name every time.

0684873931.01.LZZZZZZZ[1]A professional magician, Levy has appeared before corporate and political audiences to demonstrate his own remarkable feats of memory.  He can perfectly recall the names of an entire audience of 100 or more new faces, their children, even their pets.

In his new book, Remembering Every Name Every TimeCorporate America’s Memory Master Reveals His Secrets, Levy walks the reader through the process of memorizing prodigious numbers of names. By taking a moment with each person to study his or her face, to hear the lilt or drop in the voice, and to learn more about the individual, Levy says that such steps help establish indelible links in your mind between the individual and the name.

Why is this important?  Why do I, a busy individual, need to know everybody’s name?

Levy’s client Steven Gluckstern, chief executive officer of Zurich Global Asset Management, explains:  “You need to motivate people by making a personal connection, and a big part of that is being able to address people by their names.” Gluckstern adds that knowing everybody is important for everybody aspiring to a responsible position, “because it may be part of what allows people to display leadership in junior positions and allows them to accelerate and move through the organization more quickly. You must have been doing some of the things that people recognize as part of being a leader.”

Remembering someone’s name is a public statement of the importance you place on knowing the person. Taking the time to focus on an individual and to personalize his or her identity sends the message that you indeed know and care who the person is.

Levy’s step-by-step instructions, personal accounts, and memory-strengthening exercises move an otherwise daunting task of mastering hundreds of names into the realm of what can be achieved by anybody.  As your brain attempts to file away a person’s name, Levy deems it a self-conscious act of leadership self-development to keep the name from landing in the dead letter office. Beyond reinforcing an individual’s sense of worth by recalling his or her name, you are reflecting and projecting the company culture that everybody matters.

Source:  Benjamin Levy, Remembering Every Name Every TimeCorporate America’s Memory Master Reveals His Secrets (New York: Fireside Press, 2002).  Kate Faber can be contacted at kfaber@wharton.upenn.edu

STRATEGIC REDIRECTION:  It’s the Board of Directors

If governing boards of U.S. firms are strengthened in the wake of accounting scandals at Enron, Tyco, and elsewhere, they may be better prepared not only to prevent personal malfeasance but also to redirect corporate strategy.  This is the implication of a new study by James D. Westphal and James W. Fredrickson who followed 406 mid-sized and large publicly-traded companies from 1984 to 1996.

The investigators zeroed-in on instants when these firms replaced their chief executives, and they studied the firms’ diversification and globalization strategies in the wake of the CEO successions.  They found that the company boards were more likely to:

o   bring in an outside CEO when the firm had followed diversification and globalization strategies significantly different from the outside directors’ own company strategies;

o   recruit the new CEO from companies whose diversification and globalization strategies most often resembled the strategies of the outside directors’ own firms;

o   make these changes when the firm has been performing most poorly, i.e., when it was most in need of strategic redirection.

After the fresh CEO arrived, report the researchers, the company’s diversification and globalization strategies soon did come to resemble those of the company from which the CEO was  recruited.

It appears that a specific two-step process drives strategic redirection at many companies:  directors recruit outside chief executives whose prior firms had followed strategies similar to the directors’ own, and they do that most often when the company is troubled.  And then the freshly recruited CEO implements a new playbill akin to what he or she had used at the prior firm.

While we will often attribute great credit to a new outside CEOs who brings fresh strategic thinking to overcome poor performance, the evidence suggests that it was actually the board that engineered the specific redirection.  It selected the right outside executive to follow a path of the board’s own preference.

As governing boards in America become more independent and more forceful in the wake of current wave for governance reform, they may also become more determining of the extent to which companies follow – or avoid – strategies of diversification and globalization.

Source:  James D. Westphal and James W. Fredrickson, “Who Directs Strategic Change?  Director Experience, the Selection of New CEOs, and Change in Corporate Strategy,” Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 22, 2001, pp. 1113-1137.


Directors_Consortium[1]The Directors’ Consortium is a new three-day intensive program in Chicago on August 21-23 for directors and senior executives to explore the fundamentals of corporate governance and board service.  It is jointly presented by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Stanford Law School, and the Wharton School.

The program offers even experienced directors the benefit of a research-based, comprehensive approach to the complex decisions that board members must make.  Taught by faculty from accounting, finance, law, public policy, and strategic management, the program is intended to help directors build a “best practices” framework for thinking about and making informed board decisions. Information on the program is available here.



venture_logo[1]Facing leadership challenges?  Consider a new experiential program offered by Wharton Professor Mike Useem:  Wharton Leadership Ventures, September 3-6, 2002, to be held at Mohonk Mountain House in New York.  The program combines the outdoors with the intellectual, focusing on application to real-world business situations.


Two participants in the annual Wharton Leadership Trek to the Himalayas in April-May, 2002, describe their experience below.

The itinerary of the trek can be found here; photos of the trek can be seen here; and plans for the 2003 offering of the Himalayan trek are here.


06-02.2[1]By Gopi Kallayil, Silicon Valley and Wharton MBA Graduate (WG ’98)

We  paused to catch our breath and looked at the majestic sight in front of us.   Mount Kangchenjunga, at 28,168 feet the third highest mountain on the planet, towered above us. The bright sunshine glistened off the icy slopes of this Himalayan skyscraper.  A plume of mist rose from the top of the peak and was swiftly carried away by the ferocious wind.  Suddenly the radio crackled to life:  “We are on top of Go-Cha La pass and will start our descent shortly.”  The message was from five team members who had reached the high point of some 17,000 feet beneath the shear south face of Kangchenjunga.  Cheers broke out among the remainder of our trekking party of eighteen.

Supported by a staff of Sherpas and porters and a herd of yak, Wharton Leadership Ventures had brought a group of MBA students and alumni and several participants from the Wharton Executive Education programs to the Indian state of Sikkim in the Eastern Himalayas.  Now in its fifth year, our trek had earlier been slated to reach the lower slopes of Mount Everest in Nepal.  But due to the sometimes violent unrest in Nepal this year, the trek had been redirected to the slopes around India’s towering colossus of Kangchenjunga.

The trek’s lofty goals were in keeping with the heights we were scaling.  Leadership is a capacity that draws on all aspects of an individual and an organization.  Developing a vision, articulating it, and inspiring others to achieve it require not only careful analysis and technical knowledge but also a sense for what is important for the organization and for the people in and around it.  We knew that mastering these abilities is a lifelong endeavor, and this leadership trek promised an opportunity to continue our leadership development, exercise our body, cross-train our mind, and reflect on our leadership future amongst the awe-inspiring peaks of the Himalayas.

Teaching leadership in a classroom is challenging enough.  But how on earth do you teach leadership by shifting the classroom to a remote mountain landscape reached only by days of international flights and treacherous road travel?

Our trek started at Yuksam, a tiny Himalayan village at a height of 6,800 feet, passed through dense pine and rhododendron forests to Alpine meadows above the tree line and finally to a point where there was no e-mail, no electricity, no plumbing, no human settlements, no plant or animal life — just a vast cold emptiness on a glacial moraine with some of the most remote, desolate vistas I have ever seen.

Within hours of hitting the trail it was clear that our trekkers came with varied backgrounds and abilities.  Lindsay Patrick, who had grown up in the Canadian Rockies and captained the Wharton women’s soccer team, scampered up the steep slopes and slithered down snowy stretches like a mountain goat.  I by contrast had grown up a few hundred miles north of the equator and had not seen snow till I was in my thirties.

Our second night’s campsite was the windswept plateau of Dzongri at an altitude of 13,200 feet.  Lynne Dant, a marketing manager for a specialty chemicals company, and Eric Byrne, a software consultant, were anxiously anticipated the evening as this would be the first time that they had ever camped in the great outdoors.  They were shocked as we neared the campsite when we were hit with a fierce Himalayan ice storm that rattled even our experienced guides.  The wind howled and thunder cracked all night and into the following day, blanketing our tents and the landscape with layers of hail and snow.

As the storm continued through another night, we began to face a critical decision: whether to stay put until the weather abated, or to push higher in the storm.  The snow-covered trail ahead initially dropped more than 1,000 feet into a river gorge, and then back up the other side onto a treacherous boulder field.  We had no idea how slippery and dangerous the descent and subsequent ascent would be.  Some of us urged that we remain at Dzongri until the storm abated, while others were eager to go.  Everybody weighed in with their opinions, and the collective will came to point toward climbing higher despite the conditions.  This turned out to be an excellent decision, as the sun emerged several hours later to melt the new snow and reveal an array of spectacular peaks soaring above us.


Several nights later we readied for a 3 am departure for the high pass of Go-Cha La.  Our trip physician, Brad Reinke, warned us to pay close attention to any signs of altitude sickness once we ascended over 15,000 feet.  A trip leader added in no uncertain terms that while going up was voluntary, getting back was mandatory.  As we climbed up, each of us had to continually assess how we felt, how much higher we could ascend, and how much reserve remained for getting back down.  We knew that the latter would be critical not only for own well being but also for the safety and success of the entire team.


Most of the team made it to the Go-Cha La point at 16,700 feet, and five pushed all the way up to Go-Cha La pass at 17,000 feet.  Lynn Dant and I had set our own personal “Go-Cha La” of reaching at least 16,000 feet, and we succeeded in climbing higher than that and getting a magnificent up close view of Kangchenjunga before our inner voices said that was enough.  With our type A personalities it was hard to say “no” to going all the way to the top.  But we had to make a sensible call to leave ourselves with enough reserves to descend safely and not jeopardize the rest of the team.  It proved a personal leadership moment.

06-02.1[1]Therese Mancuso, Sales Organization, Hewlett-Packard Company

Our trekking team of eighteen set out with a common vision and goal of challenging ourselves.  We wanted to reach new heights, and we were driven by a sense of adventure and a willingness to explore the mountain mystery.  Our destination was known, but the journey less so.

By the end of our two weeks in the Himalayas, our trip had reinforced some of my closely held beliefs but had also pressed me to view leadership and teamwork with a fresh eye:  

Leadership:  Throughout the trek, we rotated leadership every day.  Each team member was paired up with another with the responsibility for leading the group that day.  As the day’s leaders, we were to see to the overall health and well being of all participants as well as facilitate midday seminars and evening discussions based on case studies and assigned readings.

The main lesson I learned while jointly leading my day was about offering people a choice, of letting them decide what they wanted instead of telling them what to do.  What makes for effective leadership, I found, is allowing the team to determine the “how” in accomplishing a task while holding them accountable for producing the end result – in our case, safely reaching the next camp site or crossing a mountain pass.  A leader paints a vision of what is possible and inspires others to share in that goal.  Once the dream is embraced, the leader must then provide plenty of free space for individuals to determine how to make their goal a reality.


Communication:  In a morning “check-in” everyone reported their physical health and mental attitude to the entire group, and that helped all of us appreciate our respective problems and capacities, vital information for deciding on both individual and collective plans for the day ahead.

It proved critical that each person honestly disclose their personal condition, even when some of us found it very uncomfortable to do so.  I came to better understand that when a team member is unwilling to speak the truth – opting instead to say what he or she thinks others want to hear – the team can be hobbled by the unacknowledged problems. Honest communication forms the foundation for building an effective team, and it is thus critical to create a safe environment for frank disclosure.

Teamwork:  I had a tendency to want to assist my fellow trekkers that I perceived as experiencing difficulty on the trail.  But I soon learned that sometimes my perceptions that they were having problems were just that:  my own beliefs and not their reality.  To test my perceptions, I found I needed to check in and verify them with the person. Otherwise, I would have rendered unnecessary aid, taking away from my own resources and subtly undermining the hiker’s own resourcefulness.

I came to appreciate as well that everyone on the trek should be viewed as a member of the broader team regardless of status.  Our many porters and Sherpas from India and Nepal, for instance, expressed a selfless attitude, giving their all with the most modest expectations in return.  I was inspired by their humility and willingness to do whatever was needed, all with a smile.  Without their arduous efforts throughout out time in the Himalayas, we would have never made it up or down the mountainsides, reminding us that regardless of title or role, everyone is critical to the success of a team.

Well formed teams, I also learned, can produce results far greater than that of any individual.  When some trekkers felt vulnerable as the terrain steepened, others stepped forward to lend a hand.  The sense of compassion and words of encouragement made all the difference for each of us to reach our own personal destination.  

Summation:  The physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges of our Himalayan trek helped me to see what I was really made of, and I came away with a newfound respect for both the capabilities of the human spirit and the mystery of the mountains.  Whether on a mountain, at home, or in the office, there can be tremendous value in leaving our comfort zone and testing our limits.