Leaders Teaching Leaders

January 9, 2013

Being a leader isn’t easy.

Successes and stumbles are more visible and consequential, and there are fewer peers the higher you go. That’s why Adobe invests significant resources into helping our leaders—from managers to directors to executives—increase their understanding of themselves, the people they manage, and the organizations they lead. And we do it with a peer-led approach—what we call “leaders teaching leaders.”

Peer facilitation marks an important change in the way Adobe approaches leadership training. We enlist our leaders to help develop Adobe’s next generation of leaders. By leveraging the wealth of experiences and perspectives from our leaders, we make learning more contextual and effective.

Adobe offers intensive development experiences where leaders can learn from each other through storytelling and best practices. Three of our leaders share their experiences below:

Francis TFrancis T.
Senior Director of Globalization
Joined Adobe in 2004

L@A: Why does Adobe use the approach of “leaders teaching leaders”?

FT: If there’s one teacher at the front of the room, telling everyone how to lead, participants get only one perspective. But if we bring together all of our incredible human assets to teach each other and share their experiences, we all benefit. The primary asset that a company has is its people, and this is the best way to maximize the value of that asset.

L@A: What do you think is the biggest value of the Adobe Leadership Experience (ALE)?

FT: For some context, the ALE is a program for senior directors and above, in partnership with the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business. Attendees create individual development plans, spend a week together in the classroom, and then apply post-course knowledge to real-world business challenges. Executive team members and senior leaders partner with university faculty as part of the classroom experience.

The biggest value of the ALE is leaving with an amazing support network. It’s a group of 20 to 30 people, and we all share the happy parts and the challenging parts of our day-to-day jobs. So not only do you learn how from successful leaders, but you get the sense that they will always be there to help you continue your learning, even after the session ends. Building that support network is extremely important.

L@A: What did you learn that you apply to your work today?

FT: I learned that it’s important to share not just techniques but also thinking processes with your peers. This is an environment that allows those interactions to happen and those stories to come up. When I faced this situation, how did I handle it? What wisdom can others find in my experience? If we can all tap into each other’s knowledge and experience, we can all help each other become stronger leaders. I’ve always believed in the power of sharing, and the ALE just reinforced that sharing experiences with up-and-coming leaders is a powerful way to help them lead their own teams more effectively.

Lea HLea H.
VP of Creative Consumer Business
Joined Adobe in 2007

L@A: How did leadership training match your expectations?

LH: I was expecting it to be an academic series of lectures, and I was looking forward to that. But it was completely the opposite of what I had anticipated. We ran through scenarios. We simulated being our own companies and competing against each other. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, and I got to learn from some of Adobe’s top leaders. It’s rare that a company gives you this kind of access to its top management and gives you an intensive learning session with them.

L@A: How do you apply what you learned?

LH: My team said that I came back with a completely refreshed mindset. I wrote up what I had learned at the training and shared it with them, so they felt like they got to benefit from me being there. Also, the new relationships I made benefited the team. When we would get stuck on something, I could say, “I met so-and-so at ALE, and they can help. Let me give them a call.” Those relationships break down barriers.

L@A: What was the biggest insight you took away?

LH: Understanding that a lot of people have questions about the decisions they make, and that it’s okay to be honest about that. I’d always thought that if someone is a VP, of course they know exactly what they’re doing. But we’re all people. There’s no way we can all possibly know everything—or even as much as we think we know. But when we can put our heads together and learn from each others’ experiences, we can spend a lot less time on trial-and-error and more time on tried-and-true best practices.

Cathleen CCathleen C.
Senior Manager, Channel Advocacy
Joined Adobe in 2008

L@A: How did the Management Essentials training exceed your expectations?

CC: What I knew about Management Essentials is that it was designed as a collaborative learning program that provides foundational tools and best practices to help managers be more effective and lead their teams to greater success.

My initial anticipation was that it would be about developing from an Adobe perspective—things that apply to being a manager at Adobe. It far exceeded those expectations because I learned a considerable amount about myself, not only as a manager but also as an individual—things that can be applied inside and outside of the professional world.

L@A: What was the most valuable lesson from the program?

CC: A significant piece for me was about compromise and accountability, and not to see situations exclusively through a black and white lens. For example, as managers we can get caught up in the moment, and it’s easy to tell a team member, “I don’t have time for that.” But you can be a more effective leader by changing up your approach. If you don’t have 30 minutes, maybe you can give 15. If you don’t have an obvious solution to a team member’s challenge, you can be creative in helping them to solve it collaboratively. And then you need to be accountable for that commitment.

L@A: How do you apply what you learned?

CC: I’m the kind of leader I am today in part because of the leaders I’ve been exposed to in my career, including in Management Essentials. They gave me valuable guidance and mentorship. “Paying it forward” is an important philosophy for me, as I’m very appreciative to those leaders. What I took away from this experience is that it’s important to make the effort to invest time in your team members, regardless of the size of the gesture, and that investment can be a game changer for that individual in helping them to become a better leader someday, too. This class helped me to realize that.