Daniels’ Executive Education drives experiential learning through the Accelerated Leadership Experience
In early 2020, Kirill Kniazev hired a new marketing team at Motili—a nationwide HVAC repair and replacement technology platform. As the marketing director, Kniazev had managed direct reports before, but he didn’t have much formal leadership training.
With buy-in from his CEO, Kniazev enrolled in the five-week-long Accelerated Leadership Experience (ALX) program through Executive Education at DU’s Daniels College of Business.
The leadership program targets new- to mid-level managers with less than seven years of managerial experience. Responsible for a small team, unit, department or initiative within their organization, participants are high-potential professionals who are at similar points in their careers, and ALX is designed to jump-start—or accelerate—that leadership potential.
Kniazev was one of 18 participants in the fall 2021 cohort. ALX runs twice annually—once in the spring and once in the fall—and starts with a two-night, three-day mountainous retreat and culminates in four half-day sessions in consecutive weeks.
“The retreat is a really great part of the program because it allows you to meet the people that you’re doing the program with face to face,” Kniazev said. “It provides an opportunity to connect with like-minded people, get to know them on a more personal level and break down some walls.”
From self-discovery about leadership styles and emotional intelligence through the Insights Discovery System, to group discussion about the complexities of leadership, inclusion and crisis management in a rapidly changing world, the retreat curriculum alternates between classroom instruction and synthesizing those concepts in real time through experiential activities that put new skills to practice.
“The intention is to put people in low stakes, but stressful situations so they can practice the theories they just learned about how they show up in a team environment,” said Bryce Anderson-Gregson, program manager for Executive Education. “Everyone is developing self-awareness around patterns, and they can ask themselves, ‘What do I notice myself doing, and can I change it in the moment?’
“It’s a way to practice vulnerability and ground what you’re learning in an experience where failure isn’t a problem, before going out and applying it to the real world.”
The ALX retreat balances this intensive learning with space for rest and reflection through group bonfires, stargazing, a silent sunrise hike and restorative yoga.
ALX instructor Bo Storozuk, an organizational development consultant and Executive Education adjunct faculty member, said scheduled downtime is an intentional component of the “sprint, learn, apply, recover” methodology.
Trying to learn or do too much at once, he said, leads to high rates of failure. Instead, learning key leadership fundamentals, identifying how they apply to the real world, practicing their application in a trusted, safe place and pausing for rest and reflection is “a more impactful and useful application technique than asking everyone to sprint a marathon.”
Following the retreat, weekly sessions cover topics such as communication, coaching, feedback, wellness, stress management, energy management, team effectiveness, people development, and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Anderson-Gregson said participants get excited about having a common language to take back and speak together with their colleagues, rather than keeping all the leadership knowledge to themselves. Kniazev agreed, noting the ability to empower the Motili marketing team with leadership fundamentals was a highlight.
“I’m implementing a lot of the stuff that we are working through in the program, and I’ve seen a change in my team,” he said. “They were already awesome to begin with, but them feeling included in my process of learning about leadership has also strengthened our bond. I hope they eventually become marketing leaders themselves, and me going through this program gives them a starting point, which I didn’t necessarily have earlier in my career.”
Storozuk and co-facilitator Ali Boyd, a certified executive coach and fellow Executive Education adjunct faculty member, reimagined the program in 2020. Formerly known as Emerging Leaders Program, the new Accelerated Leadership Experience was revised to push leaders into situations to help them develop the tools and skills needed to succeed in the increasingly complex roles of today and tomorrow’s business world.
The co-instructors continue to tweak the program to create a more focused, impactful and inclusive experience, supporting participants’ varying communication styles and levels of introversion and extroversion, while diving deeper into key principles. In the most recent delivery, the four follow-up sessions were held online, allowing Storozuk and Boyd to incorporate new technology, as well.
“Leadership is a deeply personal journey,” Storozuk said. “It’s why we start so much of the class with self-awareness, our values, our leadership brand, and what we want that to be. It’s important for people to figure out where they are in their leadership journey, and what they are looking to get out of their experience.”
The learning doesn’t end at the retreat, in the subsequent sessions or back in the office, either. Storozuk noted that leadership skills transcend many areas of life, including at home in personal relationships and with children.
“You have to be willing to crack open your heart before you can grow,” he said.
The next session will be held April 4–6 in the Colorado mountains with half-day classes April 13, 20, 27 and May 4, 2022. Learn more or register.