Lessons in leadership

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the American Society of Training and Development, we asked a member of its board of directors, Ed Betof, to share his views on becoming a learning organisation

Like many other organisations, BD – a 106-year-old global medical technology company – found itself competing in an external environment that looked very different from the global healthcare world it had helped to shape in the previous century. Markets and regulations were changing quickly, as were the buying patterns of customers.

During 2000, BD’s stock had dropped significantly following results that hadn’t met analysts’ expectations. Such was the challenge faced by Ed Ludwig, BD’s chairman, president, and chief executive officer, and his leadership team. There was a lot of work to be done.

But there was plenty to build on. A century of growth was the result of great dedication from around 25,000 current BD leaders and associates around the world, and the thousands who preceded them. That dedication and work ethic have been embedded in the fibre of our company.

That’s also true of our strong values system. During the 1990s, a worldwide process that confirmed BD’s values was facilitated by BD’s leaders and high-potential associates from every corner of the organisation. This work distilled BD’s rich past and its projected future in four values that every BD associate understands today, and by which we are expected to live at work (see box, above right).

Faced with tremendous challenges and opportunities, in 2000, Ludwig and the BD leadership team created the concept of BD’s ‘Journey to Become a Great Company’. As part of our blueprint for the future, we concluded that to achieve our goals, we’d have to become both a learning and a teaching organisation.


There are dozens of ways we involve leaders as teachers. Most come from our worldwide BD University core team; others have come from leaders and associates throughout the company. Here are some examples of their approach:

  • Lunchtime speakers on the theme of the programme, or teaching ‘The BD Orthodoxy’ (values)
  • Teaching and coaching ‘offline’ (such as during breaks and meals)
  • Teaching by ‘schmoozing’ during a programme (getting a message across by informally interacting and building relationships).

Crucial actions to ensure a successful leaders-as-teachers approach include:

  • The chairman, CEO and leadership team must be involved and supportive.
  • Emphasise the value of teaching/learning as part of the criteria related to leadership potential.
  • Develop ‘Big Mo’ (momentum). Worry little about resistance, and instead focus on those who want to be involved. Enough momentum always trumps resistance. People like to be part of success and to be where positive things happen. Momentum and involvement lead to more momentum and involvement. At some point, they become the norm, and part of the culture.
  • Make teaching valuable, engaging, rewarding, fun, and hassle-free.
  • Maintain strategic and business goal alignment. Our programmes all have a common purpose – to grow the business and our people.
  • Maintain a strong link between the classroom and real work. All our teaching is in the form of active learning with application to participant responsibilities.
  • Make leaders as teachers cost-effective. Leaders often learn as much as the participants – sometimes more.

Our leader-teachers say: “I’m a better leader after I teach”. They cite benefits such as access to direct, honest feedback about the company’s strategy and performance, and the opportunity to integrate that feedback into their thinking.

BD’s core values

  • We accept personal responsibility
  • We treat each other with respect
  • We always seek to improve
  • We do what is right

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