The Henley Way - Bringing business to life

by Tracy Greenwood
Building excellence in education is about more than individual performance, it’s about disciplined engagement, careful reflection, structured exploration and, above all, impact. And while there are numerous business schools offering any number of highly respected programmes, what sets Henley apart is the emphasis the school places on orchestrating epiphanies - ‘lightbulb moments’ within the teaching framework that allow students to flourish both in the classroom and, most importantly, at work. They call it The Henley Way.

“On one hand The Henley Way refers to our education methods, which started in a group of learning peers called a syndicate group, but which extends far wider into profound action learning, led by Henley professors and practitioners who have written the defining books on this very topic,” explains Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director, Henley Africa.

“At Henley we create rich, layered learning that changes people’s understanding of themselves and gives them an enduring, substantial confidence in their capabilities and potential.” This is only possible because the culture of Henley itself mirrors that which it seeks to imbue in learners who choose to study there.

“The culture of a place goes way beyond faculty and extends into the entire ecosystem of the organisation, including all staff and all processes, without exception” says Bernd Vogel, Director, Henley Centre for Leadership.

In Africa the Henley brand of education sets out to serve a greater purpose: to change the future of the continent by changing the futures of the people of the continent. “We do this by helping people get better at building, leading and managing businesses and organisations that in one way or another make people’s lives better and contribute to growing economies,” explains Foster-Pedley.

The Henley Way is a complex set of tacit and explicit education practices that encompass broader issues of personal engagement, personal development, authenticity and the quality with which we approach everybody at Henley.

“While this was initially grown in 70s and 80s Britain it has now become a set of contemporaneous educational practices intelligently engaging with global issues of race, gender, fairness, equity and economic opportunity – all in the context of growing excellent management practice. It is particularly compelling within South Africa with its history of apartheid, colonialism and state capture,” says Foster-Pedley. “A great part of this refers to the way in which we build people as part of their education at Henley: how they grow in confidence, intellectual capability, authenticity, personal insight, sense of agency and capability.”

Accurately describing The Henley Way would not be possible without first taking a brief look at Henley Business School’s raison d’être. “The original name of the place was The Administrative Staff College,” explains John Board, Dean, Henley UK. “In those days the administrative staff were the leadership and management of an organisation. The College was a private institution – like a club – in that quintessential British way. It was always private-sector focused and was a place where businesspeople got together to talk to their peers and colleagues about the most pressing issues facing businesses at the time.”

“The College was there for businesses, organisations and institutions that wanted to be partners in learning and development,” continues Chris Dalton, Associate Professor of Management Learning, Henley UK. “It was a place where people could go in order to get away from the daily routine, so that they could step back and think, in the company of their peers, about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.”

The College invented the Syndicate Method of teaching, where problems were considered and solved collaboratively within a peer group. The role of the academic staff at the time was expanded to guiding the conversation rather than simply teaching. The Henley Way evolved to be more than this though: it’s the structured guidance and growth of critical thinking in real time and on real issues.

“In the 21st century Henley environment, both in the United Kingdom and in Africa, the idea of meeting each other as equals in the place of learning is fundamental to the way we educate,” says Dalton. “As does the desire to integrate the different parts of management and the use of groups of practitioners (guided by mentors and academics) within a learning environment, rather than [using] a one-way lecture format.”

Adult learners, says Linda Buckley, Head of Learner Experience and Executive Education Director, Henley Africa, need to give as well as receive in order to grow. “Learning happens when we come together with a solid sense of humility and vulnerability to share a series of rich developmental experiences,” she says.

“And while faculty is effectively the role model – the ‘expert in the room’ – the outdated notion of the lecturer issuing forth from the front of the classroom to a silent audience is a thing of the past,” she says. “Faculty are more than conduits to the learning processes. They are now co-creators of it, where they surrender themselves to an emerging and intelligent educational dialogue.”

Bernd Vogel, Director, Henley Centre for Leadership, Henley UK, believes that education should be demanding, challenging and provocative, all at once. Personal development is crucial, he says, but so is the learning process. It’s a statement with which Buckley concurs. “There is this intricate dance that takes place between teacher and student, mentor and mentee. Sometimes one leads, whilst ofttimes the other.”

“The Henley Way,” says Foster-Pedley, “is more than a rich idea about our approach to education, it is a set of rich and living practices. I believe that teachers are not truly educating unless they are learning faster than the people they are teaching. That is dynamic, it is humble, it’s provocative. Education creates value. It brings business to life. It helps build the people who build the businesses who build Africa.”

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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