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It was June 1989. In Switzerland, a 43-year-old British engineer called Tim Berners-Lee was devising a system to link up the world’s computers. In London, 28 individuals from countries ranging from Britain and the US to Singapore and Botswana, were assembling at LBS to take part in a brand new four-week course called the Accelerated Development Programme, or ADP for short.
Three decades on, the World Wide Web has become part of everyday life for billions of people and the ADP has just welcomed its 100th cohort of students. Almost 4,000 students from more than 100 countries have now completed the programme. At the age of 30, the ADP is as vigorous and relevant as ever, helping participants thrive in a world very different from that of 1989.
Rob Goffee, now Emeritus Professor of Organisational Behaviour at LBS, set up the ADP. The title of the programme wasn’t simply picked out of thin air.
“The word ‘accelerated’ reflected the fact that careers – not overall working life, but the time spent building a career – was getting shorter,” says Goffee.
“The idea of a career stretching over the best part of five decades was becoming redundant; even in 1989, it was becoming increasingly obvious that a career might start in one’s late 20s and end in the mid-40s. If you hadn’t made it by the age of 45, there was a growing risk you weren’t ever going to.
“Also, the programme was just four weeks rather than the 10 weeks of the programme that it replaced. The ADP was intended to be short, appropriate and timely. Giving a burst of management development at the right moment.
“Organisations were already becoming less hierarchical and de-layered. The ADP was designed to help people make the transition from a specialised, functional role – say finance or marketing – to a more general one, helping them to do things outside their familiar comfort zone.
“With organisations becoming flatter with fewer layers, people were becoming more exposed at an earlier stage to having to take wider responsibilities. That was why the word ‘development’ in ADP was appropriate. People needed to gain the right skills in areas such as strategy, team leadership as well as a range of technical capabilities beyond those they had already acquired.”
In its early days, the ADP introduced students to things such as 360-degree feedback. “It may not seem revolutionary today, but then, it was very unusual for a general management programme, “says Goffee.
“Students were split into small groups, each with a coach, for three days and they would see each other’s data. Receiving the feedback was obviously useful in itself, but also they learned something about coaching – also useful.”
Goffee goes on: “You can debate whether we really are now living in a world of greater volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – the famous VUCA. But assume for the time being that it is at least as applicable now as it was in 1989 when the ADP was launched.
“If that’s true, then is an even greater need now to have leadership distributed around organisations – people who can pop up and lead, adapting to changing circumstances.
“Knowing how to harness one’s attributes to lead effectively is crucial. Think of a rigidly hierarchical organisation – the sort that was more familiar 30 years ago. When asked the question ‘Why are you managed by that person?’ you might look at the organisation chart and reply that your manager’s name is above yours.
But management is not the same as leadership. In 2000, together with Gareth Jones, I co-wrote a paper for the Harvard Business Review – a paper that later became a book – Why should anyone be led by you?
“That’s a different question to why someone should be managed by you. It is not about organisation charts; it’s not about formal status within an organisation. It is asking what qualities you can use to inspire, excite, lift and motivate people to a higher level of performance.
“And I’d argue that the ability to harness one’s particular talents in order to lead has become ever more important as organisations have evolved over the decades.
“Also, there’s the question of authenticity. We have seen many examples of inauthenticity in the past three decades – both in individuals and at the corporate level. Think Enron; think Volkswagen; think banks. It’s hardly surprising that people have become cynical and lost trust in large corporations and the people who lead them. Authenticity is something that now has a real value; it’s a necessity.”
Goffee continues: “Something else that is very much to the fore now that wasn’t back in 1989: we are much more aware than we were of generational differences – generation X, generation Y, Millennials and so on. That chimes with the idea that leaders cannot think of the people around them as a homogeneous mass; individuality must be respected and responded to.
“Furthermore, if we genuinely believe in the emergence of a knowledge economy, who are the people that are going to really add value to an organisation? Very often, they will be smart, well-qualified and creative. But those people can be difficult to lead and manage.”
Goffee concludes: “Leadership has always been difficult, but over the past 30 years it has got harder. Programmes like the ADP are even more important than they were.”