Kevin Kearney Reflects on Harvard Leadership Program

Kevin KearneyKevin Kearney was recently awarded a scholarship to the “Leadership Decision Making: Optimizing Organizational Performance” program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Executive Education. The program focuses on designing environments that help reduce bias and inaccuracy in order to make the overall team and organization smarter. Grounded in theories and evidence from psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience, the program teaches leaders to answer tough questions, improve the accuracy of estimates, and more effectively structure negotiations.

Below are Kevin’s thoughts on the lessons he learned from the Leadership Decision Making program:

Research has shown that our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities, making decisions incredibly difficult, even for highly educated professional decision makers. Effective decision-making is incredibly important for policy makers, and it is critical to develop techniques of self-distancing to counteract the flaws in our own mental machinery.

With the generous support of the California City Management Foundation, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Harvard University Extended Education’s Leadership Decision Making program in the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The Leadership Decision Making program offers fresh strategies and practical tools enabling students to make better choices, and I am confident the knowledge I have gained through this Harvard program will have a lasting and profound effect on me.

The professors leading the program are some of the most renowned and respected leaders in the industry, as they are involved in cutting-edge research and have advised some of the most influential people around the world on monumental decisions and negotiations. Inside the classroom, the instructors are exceptional in imparting their knowledge in an engaging roundtable setting and applying it to real-world situations.

The program’s emphasis on diversity created a platform for students to learn and grow from each other’s diverse backgrounds, ideas, and professional contexts. Students represented sectors ranging from government to nonprofit, and military to corporate, with almost half coming from other countries across the globe. There are very few places where I would be able to discuss the decision-making process of a Nigerian officer’s assignment to analyze the practicality of incorporating females into combative roles, an European Commission employee’s challenges with increasing recruitment and retention, and an Indian county executive’s turmoil with political maneuvering. Alongside my cohort, I arrived at creative solutions and ideas for these and other diverse policy dilemmas.

As City Managers in California, we are faced with decisions every day that affect residents, employees, and other stakeholders. The Leadership Decision Making program provides the opportunity for students, like myself, to better learn and understand our biases so we can enhance our decision-making skills. Evermore in the public sector, it is important that we steward our positions of authority with integrity and conviction because the right decision, at the right moment, can make all the difference.

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