Leadership Institute for Managers with Disabilities

February 06, 2012

Leadership Suite Designed for Managers from Diverse Groups

Leveling the playing field in the workplace

By Julie Epstein

LOS ANGELES -- Lynn Rothman and Tim Kaiser had similar goals. Like most managers, they wanted to advance in their careers and were faced with the need to develop the necessary leadership skills. However, each leader is always unique, and Kaiser and Rothman also had some specific individual challenges to face. Kaiser is blind, and Rothman has a mild speech impairment. Both eventually found support for the transitions they wanted to make by enrolling in UCLA Anderson School of Management's Leadership Institute for Managers with Disabilities in 2010.

In the recent past, progress has been made in recognizing the value of diversity and the multiple perspectives it provides in the workplace. However, individuals from minority groups may still encounter deeply entrenched misconceptions and stereotypes, which can take time to change. And as Kaiser came to understand, those barriers can even be internal in nature.

"I realized I needed to get rid of the mentality that I have a disability," said Kaiser. "I realized that I can do my job well and that my disability is not actually a hindrance. In fact, it is what has pushed me to work harder and be even better at doing my job. Being part of the institute really helped me come to terms with that. What I was running up against was not accessibility but the nuances of being blind and being a competent leader in an organization. Those were the questions I was struggling with. I was looking for how I could take my job to the next level."

The Leadership Institute for Managers with Disabilities is only the most recent addition to the set of courses called collectively the Leadership Suite and offered through Executive Education at UCLA Anderson. All are designed to enable participants to overcome any unique obstacles to enhancing their career success as organizational leaders. At the same time, organizations benefit from their employees' new skills. The first program founded in 1998 was for African Americans, which was followed by institutes for women; for Latinos; for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, and finally for managers with disabilities in 2007.

The Leadership Suite was created in response to research that revealed the differences in career arcs experienced by minorities in the workforce. In the early 1980s, William Ouchi, professor of human resources and organizational behavior at UCLA Anderson, and his colleagues discovered that high-performing Asian American managers in several Fortune 100 companies were leaving to accept promotions elsewhere, because they were not being offered vertical advancement. One common contributing problem was lack of access to informal internal networks that influence career success. Later, the results of a leading study by David Thomas and John Gabarro were presented in their 1999 book, "Breaking Through," documenting that executives of color versus their white male counterparts were more frequently offered lateral assignments with responsibility but not authority, resulting in the rate of upward mobility for white males far exceeding that of their minority colleagues. The need to equalize the playing field at work was evident.

The leadership institutes all follow a general structure, which changed over time in response to feedback and has grown from the original five days to five months. Each begins with a kickoff web conference to set expectations and with the taking of assessments by each participant. During the second month, students are assigned preparatory reading and the development of their action journals, along with being introduced to their personal certified executive coach, who they will meet with three times during the training term. An intensive few days of on-campus instruction follows in the third month, and eventually, each participant forms an individual leadership action plan to guide his or her professional growth.

Alissa Brill Materman, now director of the Office of Executive Education, has been involved in the development of the Leadership Suite from the beginning. She also can personally attest to the strength of the programs, since she experienced it first-hand as a participant in the Women's Leadership Institute in 1999.

"We're the only business school in the world to be offering a program like this," explained Brill Materman. "The glass ceiling existed not only for women. If you could be classified as other within your organization, then you couldn't count on those organizations for career advancement. The Leadership Suite enables participants to respond to their different workforce experiences by providing a framework to take charge of their own career development and reshape those experiences, leading to the path they want to pursue."

Both Rothman and Kaiser cited the unique focus of addressing their groups' issues and the personally specific nature of their program's comprehensive leadership development as key to their choice to enroll and to the ultimate value of the training they received. The breakthrough strategies employed help organizations as well, increasing retention rates, aiding succession planning, ensuring more inclusive management teams and enhancing positioning as leaders in corporate social responsibility. As a result, the Leadership Suites count a growing number of prestigious corporations as clients, including Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Wells Fargo and IBM. Rothman explained the related and detailed takeaways she gleaned from her participation.

"My experience in the program was full of insight," said Rothman. "I was able to immediately begin incorporating what I learned into my current role, including obtaining an internal mentor and actively networking within and across the organization's divisions. I identified my areas to concentrate on as softening and adjusting my style of directing others, my handling of emotional interactions and my tendency to favor independent action; also increasing my competency in making quality decisions and dealing with ambiguity; as well as managing up."

Brill Materman said there is ample anecdotal evidence from participants who have reported receiving promotions that they believe are due in large part to attending their programs. These stories mean a lot to her, especially since one of her current responsibilities is to cultivate talent management. Both Kaiser and Rothman had experiences which support these assertions.

After graduating with master's degrees in modern German and modern European history, Kaiser began working for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which paid for him to attend the institute. Today, he is the director of education initiatives. Despite his disability, he had never felt it was necessary to ask for help, but he said his perspective was greatly expanded by being in the program, significantly by the opportunity to interact with the other participants.

"It was amazing just being with people from all over the country who had disabilities," Kaiser said. "It was so empowering to learn from them. I found I had to deal with some of my own preconceived notions about people with different disabilities that I was not familiar with, which helped me think outside the box and look for alternative ways to interact socially with them. Working with them made me realize how my colleagues had to adjust to work on that level with me. As a result of the program, I now have a bunch of role models there to help me."

The intended positive impact of the leadership institutes is to maximize the professional potential of each participant, strengthening their abilities to think, lead and manage in ways that celebrate their individual attributes. After 30 years as a professional working woman, Rothman believes her participation in the first course she found focused on those with disabilities had an almost immediate effect on her career.

"Despite having 30 interviews in three years, my feedback was always that I looked good on paper but could not express myself," Rothman said. "During the course, I expanded my ideas about how to approach my next interview, and two months later, I received a project management promotion. I credit my training in the institute and expect what I learned to continue to serve me well in my new position. I not only received validation that I could complete the program without special accommodation, but I also came away with heightened appreciation of my strengths and abilities, with greater awareness of my motivational needs and coping methods for stress reactions, along with renewed commitment to a higher standard of personal performance."

For more information about any institute in the Leadership Suite, please contact Executive Education by visiting the website at http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/x27269.xml.

About UCLA Anderson School of Management
UCLA Anderson School of Management is among the leading business schools in the world. UCLA Anderson faculty members are globally renowned for their teaching excellence and research in advancing management thinking. Each year, UCLA Anderson provides a distinctive approach to management education to more than 1,800 students enrolled in its MBA, Fully-Employed MBA, Executive MBA, Global Executive MBA for Asia Pacific, Global Executive MBA for the Americas, Master of Financial Engineering, doctoral and executive education programs. Combining selective admissions, varied and innovative learning programs and a world-wide network of 37,000 alumni, UCLA Anderson develops and prepares global leaders.

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