Dr Tienie Ehlers was recently appointed as Chief Learning Officer at USB Executive Development, the private executive education company of Stellenbosch University. SakeBurger questioned him about the world of executive development and training.
What are the latest buzz words in executive education?
‘People-centred training’ is presently a huge buzz word – the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of leadership. Dynamic organisations which are serious about education make use of training not only for points for their empowerment grading, but for a strategic reason. Strategy comes first, followed by a needs assessment of which skills are required, and then comes the education to achieve this. We aim especially to provide the kind of education that is customised for the unique needs of each organisation and this education is then continuously adapted.
How does USB-ED keep up with determining what the workplace needs are?
We listen more than we talk. One must understand what an organisation needs, determine the needs accordingly, give guidance, and then embark on the learning journey with the organisation. We harness the latest research and development to arrive at the best solution. The best facilitators, from within our ranks and from outside, are then used to roll out the process.
You spent many years at the beer giant SABMiller. Any lessons?
Definitely. From ‘the other side of the fence’, one knew which education was needed and if it was not available from an executive development provider, we developed it ourselves. This is how ‘corporate universities’ developed. However, this is now becoming very expensive, and many organisations are not always aware of the options that entities like USB-ED offer.
Another lesson from SABMiller is to keep things simple, to take action, and to keep risk as calculated as possible.
You also have experience in sport management. Are there lessons in sport that can be applied in the business world?
I use sport analogies almost daily in the business world, especially in respect of leadership and team dynamics. The book Legacy about the 15 leadership lessons of the All Blacks says: “When you are on top of your game, change your game.” It also refers to Kawau, the V- formation in which birds fly, with the leader being regularly replaced and thus always ensuring a fresh and new approach. The biggest lesson in sport remains team dynamics. There are various leaders in one team, not only the captain (or chief executive). Then there is a match plan (or strategy), which everyone on the field (or business environment) carries out.
So, are leaders born or can leadership skills be developed?
Both are true. There are born leaders, but there is the option to apply oneself and to develop leadership skills. This is where executive training and development is so important.
Again, as in sport, not everyone has the same skills and not everyone will become a Springbok, but we can all improve, grow and develop.
Do you have any leadership lessons for politicians?
Work as a team and manage the political environment like a business enterprise, to grow and be successful. Don’t just try to deliver services, but follow a proper, sustainable business model according to which clients (or the public) are offerred value and therefore will wish to come back again to do business with you.
We must talk and think less; and listen and do more.