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Working with discretion, rather than knowledge

What is the difference between a highly skilled test pilot and an executive with strategic management responsibilities? According to Dr Sarah Riordan, organisational psychologist and learning process facilitator of USB-ED’s Executive Development Programme (EDP), the higher a leader moves up an organisational ladder, the more complex the role becomes. She explains: “If you are a test pilot, your actions on the job are pre-determined and you rely almost exclusively on your training and experience. But if you are an executive with strategic management responsibilities, you have to use judgement and discretion. You have to cope with increasing levels of ambiguity and your course of action becomes less clear.”
Willemien Law, director of Open Programmes at USB-ED, says the EDP prepares executives to address current realities that they are facing in the business environment. “As a work-based learning programme, it covers the entire sphere from strategic leadership to systemic thinking, reinforced with executive coaching.”
Although strategy will always form the basis of the EDP, the programme has evolved over the years to include themes such as sustainability, systems thinking and commercial negotiation. According to Riordan, a programme like the EDP offers an opportunity for introspection and provides a catalyst for re-aligning personal career plans with organisational intent.
“It challenges one’s belief systems and construct of self. You debate with your fellow participants and share so many different perspectives and views,” says Amanda Brinkmann, a former participant. “The personal growth, apart from the academic growth, is rather astonishing and life-changing.” Brinkmann is special advisor to the Minister of Health and leader of Government Business (Western Cape Government). 
According to Rudi Geldenhuys, senior manager at African Bank, the opportunity to learn from leaders from different industries and walks of life is invaluable. Participants share concrete past experiences with one another that enable the contextualising and re-framing of actual business practices. Brinkmann agrees: “I learned so much from my fellow delegates. Because of the diversity and different areas of expertise, you find yourself thinking about statements made for weeks and months after the event.”
Riordan says that most of the participants on the EDP are professionals who seek general management exposure. “Some start off being apprehensive, but leave ‘blown away’.” She describes the EDP learning experience as an aggregate of an expanded knowledge base, an altered world-view, combined with exceptional networking opportunities. “It prepares [participants] to engage more confidently with the ambiguity that is presented in an increasingly complex world of work – working with discretion rather than knowledge.”
According to Brinkmann, the EDP “challenges all your constructs and redefines how you see the world, how you engage at work, at play and at home.” Participants meet with people from neighbouring African countries and there are usually close to 20 different industries represented in the room. It is an opportunity to interact with the private, state and NGO sectors.
Theo Chiyoka is a general manager at TSB Sugar. He believes in continuous improvement to remain relevant, and benefitted from the shared expertise from different industries. He believes that it is during challenging economic periods that astute leaders and managers are needed, especially at executive level: “The decisions that need to be made to salvage companies, form mergers and synergistic strategies, and create and maintain successful and sustainable companies in complex times and environments and amid hostile global trends, need special knowledge and approaches.”
After completing the EDP, participants have the opportunity to join several international study tours organised by the international office at the USB.

According to Law, companies often send their staff to business schools overseas to enrol for flagship programmes, similar to the EDP. But with the current exchange rate, more and more are now sending their executives to South African business schools where the cost per participant is up to 75% lower.
Geldenhuys believes the EDP was a value-added investment into his future and says he has already received a return on investment by utilising his increased knowledge and leadership capabilities. Brinkmann agrees: “Economically challenging times are exactly the right time to invest in the development of human capital. Your business is after all your employees.  Where only complexity and uncertainty are actually certain, you are sending out strong signals that you are bullish about your business and its future. You are motivating and encouraging your management team to challenge themselves, to expand their horizons and to bring new ways of doing, thinking and being into the business.” She also believes that the limits of traditional growth have been reached, and that innovation, defining value and doing business are absolutely vital to the future sustainability of businesses.
For further information about the Executive Development Programmeclick here. Or contact the programme manager, Arina Basson, at: +27(0)21 918 4472 or
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