UNICON Leadership Academy – Learning From The Best

UNICON Leadership Academy – Learning From The Best

The UNICON Leadership Academy is now accepting applications for its fourth class.  Based on reviews from the first three cohorts, this eight-month development program is quickly becoming a ‘must-have’ experience for university-based executive education professionals aspiring to be leaders in the industry.

We spoke to a number of the Academy’s graduates and current participants, asking what they found most valuable about the experience, and whether they would recommend it to others.  They are:

Shalini Bhatia, Director, Program and Business Development, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Jennifer Hicks, Director of Executive Education, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia

Angela Gardner, Head of Executive Education Elearning, Alliance Manchester Business School

Alyssa Greco Stahl, Director, Aresty Institute of Executive Education, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Aniya Iskhakava, Associate Director, IESEOnline, IESE Business School

The first aspect of the Academy that everyone wanted to talk about is the network of friends, confidants and advisors they developed.  “My classmates and I formed a WhatsApp group,” explained Angela.  “It’s called Powerhouses!  When we met at the conference, it was high-speed bonding.  We formed a team comprised of individuals from five different continents that is still going strong today.  We ask each other for advice on work problems, but we also have a great social relationship.  It’s really nice knowing that you have a team of people you can turn to any time you need a different perspective on something.”

The people she met in the Academy had an immediate impact on Alyssa’s professional life.  “Our clients are a different audience compared to most of the other departments within the university,” she explained.  “It’s really nice to have objective, safe conversations with people from other institutions who understand the issues I deal with every day, but aren’t so close to the specifics.”

Aniya noted that people aren’t afraid to ask for help from their fellow Academy participants.  “It’s simple and yet amazing,” she said.  “A couple of my classmates just ask, ‘what should I do?’  It makes me feel good when I help them, and I also learn from them in the process.”

The Academy kicks off every year at the annual UNICON team conference.  There, the participants engage fully in the conference, but also attend additional workshops that form the foundation of the experience.  Each of our interviewees found this to be an exceptionally impactful development experience.  “I learned a lot about myself during the classroom time,” said Jennifer.  “The Korn Ferry Leadership Architect exercise was particularly useful.  I learned things about my own style that I apply every day.  It has made me a better communicator.  We also talked about the importance of demonstrating ROI to our clients.  I made an immediate adjustment to one of my programs as a result, bringing sponsors into the room at the end of the program to hear participants make one-week and one-month commitments to change.  That has helped us to quantify the difference made by our program, and I wouldn’t have had that idea without the discussions we had in the Leadership Academy.”

Shalini particularly enjoyed the exposure to senior leaders in the field.  “We develop executives, not necessarily our own people,” she said.  “The Academy gave me a chance to focus on my own development, and to do so with the help of experienced and knowledgeable presenters.  I would like to build a career in the field.  So, spending such quality time with leaders from some of the most successful organizations in the industry was an amazing experience.”

Alyssa noted that the conference experience was so much richer as an Academy participant than it would have been otherwise.  “We were able to immediately discuss the conference sessions with our Academy cohort,” she said.  “It brought the content to life in a new way.”  Angela agreed, adding, “You assume everyone has this sussed.  But when you’re with your group, you realize that no one has it figured out.  We’re all learning together in a world in which change is a permanent state.”

Each Academy participant is assigned a mentor.  And not just any mentor.  Mentors include industry legends like Monica Sacristan, Melanie Barnett, Kelly Bean, Mike Malefakis and others.  Each participant called out the mentorship aspect of the Academy as a real differentiator.  “Kelly gives me new ways to think about things,” said Alyssa.  “She shares new frameworks, deep thinking and potential solutions with me.  It’s tremendously valuable having her advice and guidance.”

Finally, we asked each of our Academy graduates and current participants if they would recommend the Academy to others.  Here’s how they responded:

Shalini: “Absolutely.  This will give you a broader perspective on university-based executive education as well as great content and an outstanding network.  And it’s very affordable, getting a ROI immediately.”

Jennifer: “I would definitely recommend the Academy.  It will allow you to speak freely about your challenges and strengths with people of the same ilk.  It will also help you to feel part of something bigger than your own institution, with genuine input from the best leaders in the industry.”

Angela: “The Academy is completely inspirational.  It will help you realize what we do for others, and how amazing it can be.  You’ll see the big picture more clearly, and develop the confidence to make strategic decisions.”

Alyssa: “Definitely participate.  This is a phenomenal opportunity, both in terms of the people you’ll get to meet and the content you’ll learn.  There isn’t one minute of wasted time.”

Aniya: “It’s a unique opportunity to learn how to lead in your industry – not someone else’s.  I work differently now than I did before this experience.  I would recommend the UNICON Leadership Academy to anyone.”

Click here for more information on the next UNICON Leadership Academy, including application specifics.

Webinar: All About the 2019-2020 UNICON Leadership Academy June 10, 2019

Get all the particulars and ask questions about the fourth class of the UNICON Leadership Academy.

Webinar now posted on the UNICON YouTube site:


Elements of the UNICON Leadership Academy include:

  • A four-day immersion structured around the annual UNICON Team Development Conference
  • A series of monthly webinars led by industry experts
  • Assignment of a mentor
  • Development of a Leadership Action Plan


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