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Leading Cornell: beyond reimagining to 'getting things done'

For three days last week, 24 Cornell leaders honed their skills for "getting things done" under the guidance of Samuel Bacharach, the ILR School's McKelvey-Grant Professor, director of ILR's Institute for Workplace Studies and co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group (BLG).

Bacharach says he is convinced that leadership is not only the domain of heroes or those born with charisma. It is a set of skills that can be taught, and Bacharach's pragmatic approach to leadership training has been used by such organizations as PepsiAmericas, the International Monetary Fund and Boeing. He also heads Cornell's capstone leadership development program, Leading Cornell, to impart these skills to Cornell's academic and administrative leaders.

Key to getting things done are "micro-skills," Bacharach says: overcoming resistance to change, enlisting support, negotiating, coaching and mentoring others, and keeping people engaged. "This program is not a charisma injection," he says, "it's about the nuts-and-bolts of execution."

The current nine-day Leading Cornell program is the third offered since its inception; it is the second one led and supported entirely by Bacharach. "Offering this is a great way for me to give back to Cornell," he says, noting that he believes his approach to leadership is especially relevant to the university today.

About Leading Cornell

Leading Cornell is coordinated and facilitated by Chris Halladay and Kathryn Burkgren of Cornell's Office of Organizational Effectiveness. The nine-day program is offered to faculty and staff who have shown senior leadership potential and have completed the Harold D. Craft Leadership and the Building Teams and Leading Change programs, or their equivalent. Participants must be nominated for the program by a senior administrator.

Each year the program kicks off with statements by an alumnus, a current Cornell student and a current local student about what Cornell means to them. This year, Ezra Cornell '71 described his life as a Cornell student and his roles as a member of the Cornell Board of Trustees; Brianna Pollard '13 discussed how she chose the ILR School, the networks she has built, and the knowledge and experience she has gained through that choice; and Megan Willkens, a seventh-grader and child of a Cornell staff person, Marilyn Willkens, talked about her dreams to study animal science or veterinary medicine at Cornell.

"At Cornell, we have moved beyond 'reimagining,' or articulating the vision for the university," he says. "We are down to the concreteness of implementation."

Bacharach maintains that because "people are not leading because of personality but because of their competency in execution," Leading Cornell is relevant to nonacademic and academic leaders alike: This year's program includes faculty members, a librarian, associate deans and researchers, as well as directors of nonacademic units.

"The presentations provide a platform for us to talk with each other about the challenges we are facing as we learn effective strategies for leading change," says Sheri Notaro, associate dean for inclusion and professional development at the Graduate School and course participant.

Seconding Notaro's observations, Susan Brown, professor and associate department chair of horticulture, appreciates the understanding of group dynamics that she got from the program. "Bacharach explained the many reasons people resist change and gave us tools to anticipate those reasons and move beyond them."

Boaz Nadav-Manes, director of acquisitions and automated technical services at the library, appreciates Bacharach's knowledge of Cornell as well as the sharing that occurred regarding the "issues we all face as we try to compete with our peers when we have fewer resources to work with."

And Shorna Allred, associate professor of natural resources, likes the relevance of Bacharach's pragmatic approach to leadership: "I appreciate the practical things I can utilize in my day-to-day work with graduate students, employees and administrators."

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz