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Wits Business School: ‘Pracademia’ and learning for real-world impact

‘We get people from business to teach business’

Complacency is the biggest threat to professionals and their careers. This is according to Leoni Grobler, Director of Executive Education at Wits Business School. For this reason, she says lifelong learning is necessary for those wanting to succeed in life if they wish to remain relevant.

Executive education caters for working people at various levels of an organisation; it focuses on the key skills and competencies needed to manage oneself, others, and a successful business. “Things are constantly changing, so whether you’ve just stepped into your first job, you’re a seasoned manager, or a celebrated executive, you need to constantly reskill and upskill yourself,” she explains. “We walk that learning journey with our delegates at every stage of their career, whether they’re just starting off or already established in their field.”

Being a leader requires a different skillset from the technical competencies required to perform operational tasks. “Once you start managing people, you need to develop and recall different skills: you need to inspire and motivate people but still hold people accountable, because, at the end of the day, you’re working towards a common goal.” Grobler says calling these management skills “soft” is misleading because these foundation skills are among the most important traits for success.

Skills for success

Business leaders must be adaptable to internal and external disruptions; therefore, flexibility, agility, and resilience are important skills and mindsets to develop. “The world is forcing us to be far more fluid in the way we think, and nobody can afford to be resistant to change,” says Grobler.

Given the speed at which technology is influencing the way we live, and essentially running our businesses, a digital skillset becomes crucial. Digital skills drive growth, increase revenue and market brands, and improve organisational performance. Creative thinking is important across all levels of business as this skill goes hand in hand with problem-solving and a growth mindset. While creativity is important, it needs to be coupled with critical and analytical thinking that support sound decision-making. Stay ahead of the curve and register for an upcoming course in digital business.

Executive education can help foster a growth mindset: “This means you learn to see the opportunity in every challenge; it also helps foster entrepreneurial skills because people learn to see gaps in the market and develop solutions to fill those gaps. So, as business schools, we have a responsibility to cultivate that mindset and help people identify look for growth opportunities.”

Mentorship and coaching training are also in high demand for executives because leaders are expected to guide, empower, motivate, and inspire the people they work with. This entails cultural sensitivity, an appreciation for diversity and inclusivity, and a collaborative approach.

Developing authentic leadership, especially in the South African context, is crucial. Our country requires leaders who are steadfast and purpose driven, guided by a personal and organisational North Star that helps them navigate decisions and interactions.

Social responsibility, ethical business practices, and sustainability are also important to incorporate into operations: “Investors are looking to invest their hard-earned savings in organisations that do good, so it’s about finding a balance between earning a good return on investment and being associated with a company that contributes meaningfully to society and the environment.”

Making learning a lifestyle

Learning is not something that is done; it is something that is lived. A learning mindset is one that permeates every aspect of life and ensures continuous growth and development.

“There is no right time to start because learning should be seen as an ongoing process,” Grobler says, adding that this does not mean it has to be a formal and structured process. “It’s about researching, reading, watching Ted Talks, and listening to podcasts about a variety of topics … we have so many resources and platforms available and more access to information than ever before, so learning is easier than ever, and there is no excuse to stagnate.”

“This does not mean that lifelong learning is without challenges”, says Grobler. This is even more true when it comes to structured, formal executive education programmes. “It’s never easy to find a balance between professional and personal responsibilities; therefore, one of the most important things we offer our delegates is flexibility.” This extends to our delivery platforms, when delegates attend courses, the course duration, and how we assess delegates.

There are also tutors, business coaches, and learning coordinators available to offer continuous support to ensure that delegates stay motivated and receive the necessary academic and emotional support they need to excel.

Learning from the best

Graduate and postgraduate studies are theoretical and academic in nature, while executive education programmes are more experiential. Staying relevant means staying up to date in theory and practice. “Executive education is all about applied learning, so it is really practising, understanding, testing, and piloting what is being learnt in the classroom, and then doing so in the workplace,” Grobler says.

This practical approach is why Wits Business School’s programmes are presented by what Grobler calls “pracademics”: “A lot of organisations and leaders are concerned that business schools may not be in touch with the realities of the world of work. Our teaching faculty have a good theoretical and technical base, but more than that, they have practical experience and have walked the journey themselves. So, if they talk about implementing a strategy, they can give real-world examples of the problems they faced and the solutions they implemented. We ensure that our delegates gain knowledge from someone who is speaking from experience. We get people from business to teach business.”

Futureproofing for businesses

Grobler says the pandemic and its impact has transformed the course of business, and there is no turning back to the way things were. “We’ve seen how fast things can change, and business leaders need the foresight to deal with complexity and disruption — Covid-19 showed us this very clearly.”

She believes the biggest threat to professionals and their careers is complacency: “It’s no longer the case that even big businesses are safe and secure, and in order to be truly successful companies and their executives must stay relevant. Complacency will see doors close, and this is why we aim to cultivate a learning and growth mindset in our delegates, to not only sustain their operations, but look for new opportunities that will have a meaningful impact on the world around them.”

For Wits Business School, working with pracademics ensures delegates receive the necessary theoretical knowledge and practical experience needed to stay ahead in their professional environments. Combined with the fostering of a growth mindset and lifelong learning, delegates are supported and challenged to grow personally and professionally, helping them to succeed and stay ahead.


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