Leadership Lessons: From Kellogg’s General

Bernie Banks: “West Point believes in developing the whole person.”

P&Q: You were the Department Head for West Point’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. In popular culture, West Point is associated with leadership. What is West Point’s underlying philosophies in developing leaders? What are some of the practices that you used to achieve this end? How is this applicable to the graduate business arena?

BB: West Point believes in developing the whole person. Consequently, this notion of who somebody is and what somebody can do lies at the core of how they think about leader development. So when you talk about who somebody is, that’s really the character piece — the values and beliefs they internalize and think to enact. What they can do: that’s the competence piece. Those are the skills that we seek to develop as a part of their leader development activity. This notion of competence and character lies at the core of everything that West Point does.

The primary mechanism for developing both of those is experience: Trying to give people a lot of experience, accelerating the accumulation of experiences and having those experiences informed by empirical science. That lies at the core at the West Point approach to development leaders.

If you think about the empirical science, at West Point, individuals will have a minimum of two academic courses that are dedicated to understanding this science of leadership. Additionally, they will have a number of other courses that most certainly are related to things that leaders are responsible for accomplishing. They take that academic knowledge and they put it into practice in a whole series of activities. At West Point, every student is afforded the opportunity to experience what it means to be a leader in real time because every student there is a member of student government. So you have a learning laboratory, where you are taking the things you are getting out of class and going out and applying them in real time, Essentially, you’re doing a whole series of experiments over the course of your 47 months there.

That approach was not necessarily something that was derived at West Point. It is West Point’s understanding of the empirical science and how you can apply it rigorously. If you think of that in a graduate business arena, it’s the same methodology. We take coursework that is informed by world class scholars and their activities and then we provide our students at Kellogg a whole slew of experiential activities, whereby they can take what they are learning in class and apply it in real time in a safe place where they can make mistakes and experiment with different techniques. It’s all about learning how to apply that science artfully. One of the advantages that we have at Kellogg is that our set of experiential activities is par excellence. Students at Kellogg are involved in every aspect of how the institution operates. So when you think about decisions being made by the senior leadership here, it is standard practice at Kellogg to incorporate students into those conversations. When you think about activities elsewhere, they may be run by faculty or, to an extent, outsourced to contractors. At Kellogg, we elect to have students intimately involved in those activities.

I’ll give you an example: Our signature conference is Kellogg On Growth. It would be easy to have some outside vendors be primarily responsible for logistics and figuring out what the construct is going to be. Here, it is a student-run enterprise that also involves members of our staff and faculty who are all working in concert to create that event. That is a conscious choice on our part because it creates an experiential activity, whereby students can take concepts that they’ve learned in class and apply them in teams in real time. The core of how Kellogg is approaching leader development lies in this whole notion about experience informed by science. That’s analogous to how West Point approaches leader development.

P&Q: You’ve been charged with infusing leadership development across all of Kellogg’s programs worldwide. Could you explain more what that will mean to current and prospective students who’ll be taking courses and earning degrees at Kellogg? What will be different wrinkles you might not see in other business schools? What would success look like to you in doing this?

BB: You’ll find among the top programs that they’re going to have fairly similar major components to their leader development. That’s to be expected because they’re employing empirical science to frame how they approach leader development. That being said, no one goes about enacting a series of programs related to each of those major areas and be very different.

I’ll give you an example. There was an empirical construct developed by the Center for Creative Leadership called the 70-20-10 Model. That model says 70% of what accounts for leader development is the challenging assignments and experiences that one has amassed. 20% is developmental relationships, he relationships developed with staff and faculty, alumni, and members of the broader community, such as the organizations in which our students take roles or internships. The depth of those relationships can matter significantly. And 10% comes from formal coursework and training, which most certainly is reflective of different expertise possessed by members of the faculty at any given time. It’s not to say any one piece is more valuable than the other. It’s just, in total, those three things primarily account for how a leader develops. The experiences being provided vary significantly from school-to-school. Schools have very different approaches in terms of how they provide experiences to their students over the course of their period of study.

Bernie Banks: “We purposely allow students to take on very significant amounts of responsibility…We’re willing to underwrite that risk in service of fostering that .”development.”

Those three buckets (experiences, relationships and coursework) apply anywhere. But it’s how you leverage those three big buckets that differs from school-to-school. At Kellogg, one of the differentiators is the extent to which students are involved in every aspect of the school’s operation. They will have, arguably, an unmatched set of opportunities relative to getting their hands dirty as it relates to leading others. That’s true whether it’s helping the school think about advances to its curriculum (such as enacting major programs) or doing those things that address student needs from a developmental perspective (such as joining the consulting club, being a member of student government or helping to organize and operate the orientation for new students).

Schools vary in their approach to that. Some of those things might be heavily orchestrated and operated by the staff and faculty. Most certainly, staff and faculty play an intimate role in each of those activities. However, at Kellogg, we purposely allow students to take on very significant amounts of responsibility. As part of every one of those activities, it serves to foster their development. That means you have to be willing to take on some risk because the individuals that are engaged in those activities are most certainly learning. We’re willing to underwrite that risk in service of fostering that development.

When it comes to the whole notion of developmental relationships, that’s where you see things around faculty accessibility, and to what extent do individuals feel they play an indelible role in fostering the development of our students. We have a very accessible staff and faculty and individuals understand that it’s not simply what one learns in class but it’s how you put those things into context and how you generate the right set of questions that can help advance one’s overall acumen as a leader.

Finally, it is critical that we continue to ensure that our curricular offerings remain best in class, cutting edge, and are related to this notion of impact and practice. It’s how we take theoretical constructs and put them into organizational settings and drive business outcomes. We are always looking to amplify all three of those big buckets. The thing that really distinguishes us, to a certain extent, is this notion of fostering intentionality. It’s starting with the end in mind. So when we go back to competence and character, we’re seeking to ensure student behavior over time is reflective of our core values and how students approach their activities are reflective of the competencies that we believe a graduate should possess as a result of having undergone the Kellogg experience.

So if they can do those things — and they’re done in a manner consistent with our core values — that’s when we know that we’ve succeeded. Because if they do that in a manner consistent with our core values, it is highly likely that they are going to create sustainable outcomes — as opposed to merely responding to perverse incentives for doing something because it has short-term benefit but it won’t hold long-term because it was done in a way that was not consistent with positive values.