Guru Mantra: Dr. Kathleen Ponder, Director, Duke CE

Dr. Kathleen Ponder
Global Director of Learning Methods
Duke Corporate Education

For the past three years Dr. Kathleen Mary Ponder has held the position of Global Director of Learning Methods at Duke Corporate Education. Responsible for designing and delivering Duke CE’s innovative, break-through approaches to executive education around the world, she has designed and delivered programs for multinational corporations in India, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Using a business challenge as their focus, her team creates solutions embracing and leveraging the cognitive, affective and, at times, spiritual and physical capacities of executives. Their success stems from using not only academic specialists but non-traditional educational providers such as orchestra conductors, firefighters, athletes, and medical doctors to bring business lessons alive.

Prior to assuming her current role, Kathleen held a number of senior leadership roles at the Center for Creative Leadership, directing their Global Design and Evaluation Services and CCL’s Education and NGO Program offerings. During her 13 years at the Center for Creative Leadership, she and her teams designed innovative blended learning leadership development initiatives intended to close the ‘knowing – doing gap’ and she continues to explore methods for ensuring that leaders and organizations truly transform after attending educational experiences. She has also authored tools and processes designed to help executives choose leadership development experiences that truly impact their business challenges, including the Leadership Development Impact Assessment.

Kathleen has extensive experience customizing and delivering leadership development processes for senior leaders that directly address their specific business challenges. Her specialty topics include leading across cultures, change, developing high performing cross-functional and cross-organizational strategic relationships, senior team dynamics, and CEO intra- and interpersonal leadership excellence. Her extensive research has addressed the same topics, with more than 30 journal articles, books, and chapters written. Most recently she authored a chapter on university president leadership and a new book on leadership development design methodology is in progress. She has worked with a variety of organizations, including pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, food products, insurance, entertainment, education, and U.S. Military Generals and Admirals. Early in her career, Kathleen proudly held several senior leadership roles in public education for the deaf as a principal and assistant superintendent (she still signs fluently) and was a faculty member at the University of North Carolina and the University of North Texas.

RC. What excites you about your role as Global Director of Learning Methods at Duke Corporate Education?
KP. Although the current economic downturn has created hardship, we at Duke Corporate Education see opportunity in this crisis. We believe that even the creative learning methodologies that brought us success in the past won’t work in this new faster, leaner global learning ecology. We’re putting a lot of energy into completely redefining executive education by leveraging e-learning in exciting new ways. That I find exhilarating and I can’t wait to get to work in the morning.

RC. How does the Duke CE approach to learning and development close the ‘knowing-doing’ gap for business leaders? How does it apply to the managerial challenges in the Indian context?
KP. There are very, very few one-time learning events offered by Duke CE – and those occur only at the behest of the client. We start with the goal of creating an ‘end-to-end’ learning experience – one that guides and supports individual, team, and organizational growth and change from an awareness that new ways of working are needed to that pivotal moment when everyday behavior and mindsets reflect the targeted changes. Knowing that the majority of change initiatives fail, we’ve put quite a bit of energy into understanding what defines change success – why it is that some efforts at personal or organizational change do succeed. We’ve learned five (5) key lessons:
(1) Without executive sponsorship – consistent and visible support from those at the top of the organization – even well-crafted executive education programs have limited impact.
(2) Delivering knowledge to executives doesn’t work. We’ve got to engage them in co-creating the answers to their problems, allowing them to author the answers in a way that speaks to their context, their culture.
(3) Learning automatically happens in the office and you’ve got to make sure that the conclusions drawn and meaning made in the office matches target learning goals. You’ve got to ‘show up’ when the inevitable false steps at implementation occur, when frustration explodes at unforeseen obstacles.
(4) Creating change in the way executives see and experience their organization, the way they frame and respond to its challenges, means changing beliefs and attitudes. Like all of us, executives don’t change their daily actions without a fundamental shift in how they see and feel the world around them. That’s why instead of lecturing, our learning events bring alive current business dilemmas using actors, musicians, authors, athletes, and seminal thinkers, engaging executives fully and deeply with the reality they must manage.
(5) You’ve got to ‘show up’ everywhere – in their computer, on their blackberry, on their cell phone, offering continuous support and fresh, relevant learning ‘bytes’. We’re experimenting with novel e-based ways to coach executives as they put new insights into practice. The widespread use of cell phones throughout India makes this an ideal way to deliver program follow-on support to Indian managers. Scheduling a series of 15-30 minute coaching calls to answer questions or give a learning ‘boost’ is a great way to support the practice of new skills, behaviors, and attitudes.

RC. What are the major recent innovations and trends you are observing in the learning methods for executives?
KP. Shrinking dollars for executive education is forever altering the structure and delivery format of executive education. Face-to-face learning events will be reserved only for those learning goals that demand interpersonal interactions.
Designers will need to answer clients who ask, “Why do we need to meet in person?” Anywhere, anytime learning events and supports – that’s what we’ll see. Executive educators need to permanently alter the structure of executive education – and DukeCE will be leading the way.