The notion that people can be taught everything they need to know for the span of their professional lives in just two years is clearly false, said senior lecturer David Bradford, a strong advocate of ongoing education throughout one's life. Bradford recently was awarded the 2005 Jaedicke Silver Apple Award for his outstanding service to the School's graduates by the Stanford GSB Alumni Association.
"The idea that you get educated once and then apply it forever might have worked one or two generations ago, but it is not going to work today," said Bradford, whose field is organizational behavior. "Knowledge is generated at too rapid a pace, and conditions change too rapidly."
Bradford praised the alumni association's Lifelong Learning program, headed by Erica Richter, and said he believes it should be expanded to include more types of continuing education for alumni. "Lifelong learning is more than just attending a one-day seminar or a four-day residency, or even a two-week executive program," he said. "Fundamentally, we need to rethink what people need throughout all the stages of their professional lives."
The award, presented during Reunion Weekend, recognizes the contribution he has made through seminars and workshops delivered through alumni chapters both domestically and internationally. He also has taught courses through the Lifelong Learning program. The award is named for Robert K. Jaedicke, an emeritus dean of the School, and is presented annually to recognize a faculty member who contributes to programs aimed at alumni of the school.
Bradford is celebrated for his long-running MBA class on interpersonal dynamics - best known as "Touchy-Feely" - and also for an MBA class on high-performance leadership. Over the past few years he has taught a four-day seminar for alumni through the Lifelong Learning program. Called Interpersonal Dynamics for High-Performance Leaders, it combines the content of his two MBA courses and has been very well received by alumni.
Bradford says he sees differences between teaching MBAs and alumni who have learned more life lessons. "If you live long enough, you realize that you can fall off the horse and get back on again," he said. "I think many of our MBAs are very much afraid of failure. But those of us who have been around awhile realize that failure is inevitable, and what's important is how you handle it, not how you avoid it."
There's also a greater appreciation among alumni for the "softer" managerial issues relating to people and interpersonal dynamics. "MBAs are primarily focused on the technical courses, such as finance and accounting-which, of course, are very important," he said. But with experience comes the realization that although mastery of those functions are challenging, the more difficult problems tend to be human issues.
"There's often the attitude that if it weren't for people, organizations would be great places to work," said Bradford. "Alumni tend to have had a great deal of experience with the complexity of human interactions. The discussions tend to be more sophisticated and nuanced as a result, and very personally rewarding."
For alumni, participating in Bradford's courses can be very "affirming." Bradford stresses how too many managers use only a limited part of themselves in their jobs, and in the worst cases reject being themselves in favor of playing a role or presenting an image to those around them.
"This can be very limiting to one's efforts to be a leader," he said. "One of the main messages the course delivers is that who you are is more powerful and useful than you might previously have thought." This doesn't mean that managers should act on impulse; one has to be judicious and act appropriately, he said. "But we can use more of ourselves and be more assertive and more vulnerable, and use our feelings and emotions in our work more than we think."
The goal of the course, said Bradford, is to deliver the message that more authentic communication is a good thing. People are often afraid of being direct, yet that's what can help them build stronger work relationships and resolve interpersonal problems more easily and more quickly.
"The notion that I can be more myself-and more effective and influential and leaderlike in the process - is a deeply affirming one," said Bradford.