James G. Clawson and Mark E. Haskins are professors at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and co-authors of Teaching Management: A Field Guide for Professors, Consultants and Corporate Trainers.
The Financial Times recently ranked the Darden School’s executive education (EE) faculty #1 in the world for the eighth straight year. Collectively, we are honored by such recognition and individually, we are honored to be a part of such a faculty cohort. We take pride in designing, developing, and delivering learning experiences for executives that are dynamic, memorable, and value-added.
Combined, we have spent over 50 years in the EE arena and have assembled scores of EE faculty teams. The goal is to always assemble a team that possesses most, if not all, of the following characteristics in order to inform, wow, delight, and capture the attention of a busy, oft-stressed, talented, demanding group of executives in a relatively short period of time.
The best EE instructors we have worked with are those who…
- Invest time and effort to become familiar with EE participants’ companies;
- Exhibit genuine and infectious enthusiasm and energy for an EE program’s overall learning objectives, each class session’s subject matter, and the program attendees;
- Convey real, and up to date, ‘face validity’ in regards to subject matter expertise and how that expertise is best brought to bear on real, key business issues;
- Can confidently and humbly posit new ideas and concepts that challenge participants’ assumptions and institutionalized ways of doing things;
- Possess a willingness and an ability to tailor classroom materials and instructional approaches to the multi-dimensional attributes of an executive audience;
- Can elicit participants’ semi-conscious wisdom by skilled questioning in a way that informs everyone;
- Are able to quickly and clearly establish an interesting need-to-know foundation for the content of each of their class sessions;
- Are skilled in providing tangible, readily-useable takeaways (e.g., tools, techniques, frameworks, templates, protocols, and change agendas);
- Invest time and effort to integrate their subject matter with that of other instructors in the same EE program for a variety of purposes, not the least of which is to promote the demise of stovepipe views of functional areas;
- Engage participants personally as well as intellectually, touching them at a deep level;
- Are gifted at distilling, in a compressed amount of time, the essence of complicated topics into a few action-oriented points that EE participants are highly likely to recall upon returning to their employers;
- Tell provocative, engaging stories in order to demonstrate and dramatize the practicality and achievability of the specific ideas under discussion;
- Desire to establish both a personal and professional connection with the program attendees by interacting with them outside the classroom in order to learn more about them and the challenges they are facing;
- Insightfully ascertain the right level and pace for presenting their subject matter content and make real-time classroom and program-wide adjustments as dictated by an audience’s questions, interests, first-hand accounts, and emergent learning needs; and
- Are able to shed new light, establish new connections, and/or facilitate the generation of new ideas on old topics that executives may initially want to discount or dismiss.
In Teaching Management: A Field Guide for Professors, Consultants and Corporate Trainers, we share the lessons we have learned over the years in striving to be EE classroom instructors worthy of the time and monies executives invest in attending our programs. Similarly, the book also explores the related set of challenges and opportunities resident in becoming world-class business school instructors. We invite you to aspire to be the best instructor in your school and in your field. With reflection, observation, curiosity, and a commitment to excellence, it is possible.
An earlier discussion of some of these points can also be found at, “The Executive Education Classroom: Instructor Selection Criteria” Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, M. Haskins, (Vol. 26, No. 1, 2012).