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A Flagship Model for Modern Leadership Development

by Arthur Schwartz
Thirty years ago I participated in LEADERSHIP Philadelphia and the experience remains a personal milestone. There was something special about a cohort of 40 rising leaders from the region’s top law firms, corporations and nonprofits coming together once a month for one year to learn about the civic and economic challenges facing our region. We clicked as a group—and the program definitely catalyzed our connection and commitment to the Philadelphia region.

LEADERSHIP Philadelphia was the first program of its kind in the United States and for decades it served as our nation’s flagship model. So what’s next? What might Leadership 2.0 look like? Here’s one idea to consider: What would it take for Philadelphia to become nationally recognized for developing and transforming the skills and behaviors of leaders— both within the business and public sectors? In short, can we come together as a region and crack the “human capital” code?

There is a blueprint for this bold vision already in place. The government of Singapore is doubling down on its commitment to human capital. It recently launched the Human Capital Leadership Institute. The nonprofit institute aims to be at the “heart of Asia’s human capital ecosystem.” The everyday work of the institute consists of generating and disseminating insights and customized solutions for Asian companies and organizations looking for ways to increase the leadership capabilities of their managers and executives.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine creating a Philadelphia-area private-public partnership to address our region’s human capital challenges, including solutions to increase the leadership capacities of managers and executives within all sectors of the Philadelphia region— private as well as public. What would it take for this proposed entity to significantly contribute to the health and prosperity of our region? For starters, it would need to take three steps:

Step #1: Bring together our region’s most notable human capital thought leaders. Philadelphia is home to some of the world’s best HR scholars and practitioners. For example, the Wharton School at Penn houses the Center for Human Resources, under the direction of Peter Cappelli. A fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, Cappelli was recently recognized by HR Magazine as one of the top five most influential thinkers in management. Our new entity will need to leverage Cappelli’s knowledge and expertise, along with other prominent HR scholars across the Delaware Valley. And, what about the HR and organizational behavior experts working in the region’s top consulting firms? Surely they will need to be involved too. In short, the first challenge for this private-public partnership is to inspire the best minds in human capital research to join together for a singular purpose: leveraging their collective knowledge and experience to enhance the lives of people who work at companies and organizations near where they live, work or teach.

Step #2: Persuade corporations and government entities to buy-in. It will take more than just bringing together the area’s top academics and consultants. This new organization will need to enlist our region’s largest corporations and government entities. Two bold promises should form the core pitch to our area’s Csuite executives and civic leaders: (1) This new effort will strengthen the leadership pipeline within your company or organization; and, (2) By actively participating, your company or organization will help catapult Philadelphia to the forefront of U.S. cities committed to cracking the human capital code.

Step #3: Generate some small wins. We all love the home run, but the best way to sustain a new organization is to accomplish some “small wins.” In her book The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile argues that “small wins” can make all the difference in how individuals and organizations feel about change and innovation. Within the first 24 months, this new entity will need to produce tangible evidence that it’s creating positive dividends for its different stakeholders. Scholars and consultants will need to see that their work is making a tangible difference and the C-suite executives will want evidence—both anecdotal and empirical—that positive change is occurring, even if these changes are small or modest.

When it comes to developing emerging leaders, can Philadelphia once again serve as a model for the nation? Can we come together to create a public-private partnership whose singular mission is to address our region’s human capital challenges? If we don’t, my guess is another city will.

Arthur Schwartz is professor of leadership studies and founding director of the Oskin Leadership Institute at Widener University. He can be reached at ASchwartz@Widener.edu.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 10 (September, 2016).
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