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4 Lessons in Adaptive Leadership

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Michael Useem is a professor of management and the director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia.


The armed services have been in the business of leadership development much longer than the corporate world has. For more than two centuries, America has trained its officers to be effective leaders in combat and beyond the U.S. Military Academy at West Point dates to 1802. But warfare has changed, and so has business. Military leaders need new tools and techniques to face a fast-changing and unpredictable type of enemy—so the armed services train their officers in ways that build a culture of readiness and commitment. Business leaders need just such a culture to survive and succeed, given that they, too, face unprecedented uncertainty—and new types of competitors.

That’s why my colleagues at Wharton and I incorporate military leadership principles into our MBA and executive MBA programs, through direct contact with members of the U.S. Army, the U.S.MarineCorps, and the Department of Defense. Students have the opportunity to engage with top leaders from the armed services, participate in military training exercises, and visit historic battlefields. Most events are brief—one or two days long—but all are intense...

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