How Stanford Executive Education embraces vulnerability as a form of resilience

August 13, 2021 - 9 min read

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Agility in business (and in basketball)

What have we learned about resilience?

Vulnerability is key to being resilient

Lean into change with curiosity

How coaching creates these capabilities within leaders

Agility in business (and basketball)

The clock is counting down. You’re one shot away from winning. Courtside fans are cheering you on. Team members surrounding you from every angle scream “pass the ball!” Opponents are closing in on your left and right. 

The pressure is on. Distractions are high. How do you make the final score to bring your team to victory? 

Your next step demonstrates your agility, according to Ryann Price, Managing Director of Marketing, Executive Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. 

Ryann describes agility as your capacity to react to challenges —whether on the basketball court or in a business meeting. It’s a leader's ability to react quickly, creatively, and intentionally to the unexpected and unknown.

As we transition into the post-pandemic era, the world of work is transforming significantly. Business models, work policies, and company cultures are becoming more complex and varied. 

In her leadership role at Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Education, Ryann adopts a resilience framework to leverage the uncertainty of these changes as opportunities for organizational growth.

What have we learned about resilience?

Ryann identifies agility as a responsive course of action and resilience as the proactive state of being it derives from. 

In our conversation with Ryann and Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, Patty elaborated by identifying resilience as a growth mindset. She sums it up with the optimistic thought “tomorrow’s another day . . . we’re going to get through this one.” 

Like Patty, Ryann views resilience as a way of thinking that derives from looking inward and forward simultaneously. She believes our organizations will be best prepared to adapt to the changing world of work when the individuals and teams who comprise them are resilient. 

Stanford GSB Executive Education’s business model is built on a resilience framework. At its core lies vulnerability.

Vulnerability is key to being resilient

Ryann identifies vulnerability as the courage to take risks. It’s the state of being that urges us to pursue new ideas without a guaranteed success rate. 

Vulnerability at work is all-too-often considered as a form of self-exposure. It is perceived as a risky behavior that detracts from our professionalism and performance. Stanford GSB Executive Education is actively working to restructure these notions by encouraging leaders to be vulnerable in a way that is authentic. 

Ryann describes vulnerability as a form of resilience and courage that allows us to connect with our team members and managers on a human level. When we are vulnerable at work, we are able to experience personal and professional growth simultaneously. 

The core value of vulnerability sparked Ryann’s ability to balance her roles as a professional and first-time parent. 

By being open with her team about the challenges of navigating motherhood on top of her promotion to a new leadership role, she was able to transition into both with confidence,  empowerment, and support from her coworkers. She did not have to sacrifice baby time to succeed in her role as a managing director (or vice-versa).

Stanford GBS’s culture of improvisational learning and coaching enabled her to be vulnerable and to experience a sense of belonging — and support — at work.

Lean into change with curiosity

Improvisational learning means adopting a “yes and” mentality. It urges leaders to be curious

This type of learning enables Ryann and her peers to recognize that leaders don’t have “this magical book that has all the answers.” Instead, the most innovative solutions combine insights from various team members across leadership levels. 

Teams develop their most creative ideas when members are open-minded, playful, and comfortable pitching original ideas without fear of failure.

Ryann points to the benefits of improvisational learning for managers and team members. Verbal directions guide people in executing new ideas, but non-verbal cues like listening empower them to brainstorm these ideas in the first place. 

When our leaders actively listen, we feel seen and valued. We believe our contributions matter and experience feelings of self-efficacy

Listening creates high levels of trust, collaboration, and social connection. 

Team members trust themselves to navigate unfamiliar and difficult situations, such as a shift in management or a delayed product launch. Executives feel less lonely and more supported in advancing their organizations. This environment of listening and learning encourages everyone to develop a growth mindset.

“I think executives find that isolation because they feel like they always have to be talking. They always have to be communicating...there’s another skill that maybe we’ve been kind of rusty at, and that’s called listening. My coach is teaching me how to do that better.”

Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix

How coaching creates these capabilities within leaders 

According to Ryann, the coaching offered to students in the Stanford Executive Program (oftentimes CEOs of other companies) enables them to overcome feelings of executive isolation. 

Ryann describes how many of the Executive Program students feel a compulsion to “stay strong or else my team will struggle.” This leads to them feeling alone, stressed, and singularly responsible, and making more risk-averse choices amidst challenges.

The Stanford Executive Program implemented all-inclusive coaching to provides these leaders with a safe space to engage in vulnerability and creativity. Coaching helps the executives gain agility and cultivate resilience for the challenges of leadership.   

Ryann says that coaching enables the executives to speak more openly and reflect more thoroughly on their work experiences. It provides them with support to investigate triumphant wins and unexpected challenges without judgment. 

Through integrative coaching, Stanford GSB Executive Education students approach their jobs with higher levels of energy, attention, self-control, mental fitness, and wellbeing. They also cultivate purpose and meaning at work more effectively, which helps them to avoid burnout

As seen through its success at Stanford GSB, coaching enhances people’s sense of agency and accountability to guide their companies through times of uncertainty. Most importantly, they have the resilience to see it all through.

“We didn't have coaching as a part of the program for everybody before. And when we integrated it, we actually see them go up 10 percentage points in energy, which is essentially the opposite of stress. And then we see them go up 14 percentage points in calm, which is the opposite of burnout. And those are such fundamentally powerful foundations for people that once they're able to have a greater sense of calm and more energy, then they have the ability to dig in and actually work toward their goals.”

Ryann Price, Managing Director of Marketing, Executive Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

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Published August 13, 2021

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