From marathons to MBAs: Leadership lessons I have learnt from running

 

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I don’t think my MBA class would believe me if I told them that I use to hate running. I’m known amongst the year as that crazy girl who trained for her first marathon during the notoriously busy Module 1. This means I now know Lausanne’s running tracks almost as well as I know IMD’s dungeons.

However, when I was a child, I genuinely did hate it. My least favourite day of the whole school year was Sports Day. It was pure humiliation. I would be persuaded into running distances like the 1500m (around 3% of a marathon’s distance…) and spend the whole race wheezing, walking and complaining my way round.

Something changed when I was 18. I spent a year off, part of which working for a charity that looks after boys who lived on the streets in Kenya. When I came back to England, I felt compelled to do something to continue supporting them, so I decided to run a half marathon and raise money.

With that decision, I became a runner. It was difficult making this transition; going from someone who genuinely could not run longer than 2 minutes to someone who felt happy trudging round the London parks took perseverance, dedication and a total change in mindset.

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The reason I’ve carried on running for the last 10 years is not because of what it does for me physically. Yes, it is great to be fit, sleep better and have improved focus during the day, but the real reason is because of what it does for me mentally. Forcing myself to get up for early morning runs whilst others are still sleeping has strengthened my drive and self-discipline. Spending hours on training runs has taught me the importance of practice to improve a skill. Finding a good running buddy has shown me the benefit of support during challenges. And bad running days have made me more resilient whilst good running days make me feel empowered.

This MBA year has put all these skills to the test and the current job search is no exception. There are highs and lows. Many hours are needed to hone your interview technique and discipline to say no to opportunities that are not right for you. I have had setbacks, like I am sure some of my classmates have. With these I find it important to remember the resilience I showed during the marathon, pick myself up from momentary disappointment and carry on. There have also been some fantastic opportunities that have come up as well, and like that moment when I crossed finish line after 4 hours and 13 minutes of running, I make sure to celebrate these.

As another week begins where I find, like all of the Magic 90, I have the near impossible task of fitting in ICP work, job applications, interviews and a personal life into a limited, ever-accelerated amount of time, I like to remind myself of that 18-year-old girl who hated running. Who would have thought she could have run a London Marathon this year?

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Great achievements are possible with hard-work, determination and a little bit of luck. So good luck to all the Magic 90 as we move into this final phase of the year. By supporting each other and applying that determination we have shown throughout, I know that the possibilities for us all are endless. There is ultimately nothing more rewarding than putting a goal out there, working hard for it and seizing it with both hands when you achieve it.

Maisie

 

 

3 Leadership Learnings from ‘Paddle for Cancer Support’ Dragon Boat Racing

Twelve IMD MBA’s had the opportunity to participate in “ESCA Paddle for Cancer Support” Dragon boat Festival held at Lac de Joux on Sunday 1st September. Together with professors and staff, we teamed up to form a 40 people contingent of paddlers and supporters from IMD. 

Since 2009, IMD has proudly taken part in the Dragon Boat races to raise funds to support English-speaking cancer patients and their families in the Lac Léman region. IMD President Jean-Francois Manzoni, IMD’s management team and the MBA Program Dean, Sean Meehan, are equally dedicated to supporting this cause and encourage inclusiveness between the staff and MBA participants to help to solidify the IMD community.

Two Teams – IMD Real Impact (Captain Kei Takizawa), and IMD Real Learning (Captain Arturo Bris) battled in the corporate category. We competed in three dragon boat races of 350m each with the top teams qualifying for the finals. My team, IMD Real Impact qualified for the finals and finished with the fastest timing – topping the IMD score board from the past 10 years.

We came in Top 5 out of 21 corporate teams, registering a 25% improvement in the final race, and concluding at 1.66 sec from a podium finish.

Over the past six years, I have been part of various dragon boat races with the Ministry of Health corporate team in Singapore. Here are some of the leadership learnings that I would like to share as the team pacer from the Lac de Joux race experience.

COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY

It doesn’t matter how much we know. What matters is how clearly others can understand what we know,

says Simon Sinek.

It was hugely visible as many of us were paddling for the first time. As a leader, simple and effective communication to the team on what to do and how to do it is crucial. 

STRATEGIZE A GOOD EXECUTION

A good beginning is half the battle won.

Undoubtedly in dragon boat races, a sound strategy and good start are essential. In order to win a race in competitions and businesses alike, a well-defined strategy is not enough; the right execution of the plans is the key. Strategy needs to be complemented by strong execution.

BACK THE TEAM AND MAINTAIN THE MOMENTUM

When you focus your attention on your intention, you gain momentum.

Dragon boating is the ultimate team sport. Field the group with high energy, execute a good start, and continue the pace – keeping an eye on the momentum of your boat. Back the team and trust the process. Keep learning and continue to apply those learnings.

Last but not least, I would like to thank the IMD “Paddle for Cancer Support” organizing committee:  Aurelia Held, Lucy Jay-Kennedy and Kathy Schwarz for the overall planning, logistics, catering,  travel, and everything else. And to Professors Arturo Bris, Arnaud Chevallier, Albrecht Enders and Omar Toulan amongst others for their great camaraderie, strategic insights and enthusiastic support.

Here’s a short souvenir video to relish the best moments: https://youtu.be/xLPdbISDJyE

Shriekanth Iyer

So why IMD?

You might think that I should have asked myself this question long before I signed the papers. And you are right! That’s what I did, but reading about the journey and jumping on the plane are two different things.

With over 6 years of management consulting experience in my backpack, it was time to rethink: who I was as a professional; what led me to where I was (scary thought); and what I needed to rethink to move forward (even scarier). IMD’s focus on leadership and the mysterious PDE (Personal Development Elective – 20 individual sessions with a pyschoanalyst) were at the core of what brought me here.

Now, several months into the program, with countless classes, multiple PDE hours, extensive coaching sessions, challenging leadership experientials and a file of reflection papers, comes the moment to reflect … was it worth it? Oh yes, it was.

Firstly, I tend to call the stream ‘the total leadership stream’. I say it as it covers a very broad spectrum of what leadership is in today’s complex environment – starting from typical suspects such as self-discovery (e.g. through psychological tests), team dynamics and building and managing high performance teams through less obvious topics of ethics, culture, lie detection and trust building to unique 1-2-1 psychoanalysis sessions.

Secondly, it is immersive. Quite often we discuss leadership as an abstract concept in a vacuum. It is easier to discuss it when you analyze a scientific paper or when you work on team dynamics in a laboratory-like exercise. And do not get me wrong – these are great experiences… to start with. At IMD the leadership stream goes further and is an integral part of the entire program. Innovation week? Sure, why not add coaches to the team to facilitate team dynamics learning on a real project. Start-up projects and ICPs (International Consulting Projects)? Why not include coaches again to teach us how to open ourselves up and build trust through team bonding exercises. These are practical tools we can bring to the professional life post-MBA.

Lastly, it goes deep. Going through leadership experientials where we were put under pressure as a team to observe and learn about the team dynamics or facing uncomfortable questions during the coaching and PDE sessions were not easy. IMD created an environment where we could put away our personas to work with the true “us”, with all its beauty but also with all its imperfections. Hours of honest conversations helped me to confront my demons and that was a very helpful experience.

The Leadership stream is truly the foundation of IMD MBA program. It transforms you in so many ways, repairing some of the damage you carry and opening eyes to the areas you have never looked at. It’s a fascinating, yet oftentimes painful journey. As with everything in life, there is no free lunch. To get the most out of it, you need to open up, face the uncomfortable truths about yourself and help others through sometimes very tough conversations.

If you are looking to transform who you are, IMD MBA is the place for you. If not, then hmm … there are many other MBA programs that are perhaps a better fit 🙂

Thank you Jennifer Jordan, Ina Toegel, George Kohlrieser, Bettina Court and all other faculty, coaches and PDE analysts who are with us along this journey of the discovery of self and the world around us!

Lukasz

A mid-year overview of a leadership journey

Ombudsman and Ombudswoman

Sebastiano Pizzinelli and Camila Scaranelo

February 2019: the 90 IMD MBA participants had worked shoulder to shoulder for approximately one month. IMD decided it was time for the class to have two representatives: a male and a female.

IMD took an innovative approach. Our class was simply asked to choose, in an anonymous poll, the people we saw as good class representatives: no popularity contest, no advertisements, no speeches, just true community spirit. The results came shortly after and we had been chosen.

Now, in June, almost half of the program is over and … it was tough! “He who learns must suffer” as Aeschylus would say, but the amazing part has been bonding with our fellow participants and the support we feel.

Here we share what this journey has meant for us so far, and the challenges we have faced.

“Camila, what was the hardest moment for you?”

I believe it was right before the module one exams, when we had so much going on at the same time: meetings with our “start-up” clients, studying for the exam week, and representing all of our class requests. In hindsight, it was a great learning and we could see a clear difference in module two.

“Sebastiano, what was the feeling right after the announcement we had been chosen?”

I was flattered and concerned: representing 88 future leaders is an honor and I knew it would be hard to stand up to their high expectations. I realized not only how much our batch deeply cared about inclusion and bonding, but also how much I cared about it. However, it was all very fast, we immediately had things to do for the class. It has been an amazing journey and a chance to know many of these extraordinary individuals better. I do everything in my power to deserve the trust and responsibilities that were imparted to me.

“Camila, what is the class feeling at the moment?”

I believe the class has come together with its own identity. We are no longer 90 individuals, we actually became the Magic 90. For many, there was this strange sense of relief after the pressure of module one and even when exams were imminent, things were smoother. There’s a lot of excitement for the discovery expedition and the summer break, and we’re using all our spare time to network and investigate the companies we believe will be the best fit for our future.

“Sebastiano, how do you think the class would describe these two modules?”

In the first module, classes are just part of the typical day: a chance to learn and start living the IMD journey together. Then group projects, essays, assignments, presentations, and tons of deadlines drop from everywhere building considerable pressure. But it also creates a tight bond within the groups as a survival response. In Module two the pressure is perceived differently: we are all stretching our limits and comfort zones, and being in groups is an additional push to raise the performance bar. In a way, module two is also about reflection and retrospection, with peaks in the negotiations course and innovation week.

“Camila any final words?”

Overall the experience has been great and the support of our classmates was crucial for this to happen. It’s a better learning opportunity than I could have imagined, and as such, it is presented with many challenges as well. “Learning to lead without hierarchy” seems to be a recurrent motto around here and it is no different for being an ombuds.

Camila and Sebastiano

International Women’s Assessment Day

International Women’s Day last Friday is hopefully indicative of a world that is ready to accept and adapt to ensure there are more women leaders in business and society. Not only will this deliver positive performance outcomes, it just doesn’t makes sense to do anything less than be fully inclusive.

But while this day sends out a clear signal, to really encourage a genuine future impact on society, education needs to play a key role. Here, we want to play our part in creating a future where equality and diversity is the norm.  The IMD MBA, with our successful history of delivering Leadership Development in an extremely collaborative and diverse program, has set ambitious goals with regard to gender balance. We seek parity. We think we can get there because our class, being one section with such a high faculty to student ratio, creates a powerful and supportive community. A great context: participants know one another well, respect and trust is high, and support is endless.

This year we have partnered with the Forté Foundation for women and added new scholarships specifically targeting female applicants. In honour of the International Women’s Day, we also hosted our first exclusive women’s MBA assessment day on Friday. Experienced women, from different countries, with diverse professional backgrounds, spent the day on the IMD campus meeting the admissions team, faculty and some members of the class of 2019, sampling class and, importantly, participating in our assessment routines. As I said to them, they would not have been invited to campus if we had any doubts about their ability to get through the course. The point of our assessments is not to test basic ability but rather to test for fit and help us identify who will thrive in our special environment. It isn’t for everyone. They should be testing us as much as we are testing them. 

It was a pleasure to spend a little time with such highly motivated and talented people. We wish them, and all women with the ambition to lead, the courage and determination to persevere. We are committed to working with them all to pave the way to a more balanced future.  

Professor Seán Meehan, Dean of MBA Program

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together!

Leadership, Experience and Intensity are some of the words people relate with IMD MBA. Over a month ago, I started my IMD journey expecting a lot of academic rigor, a vastly diverse group of colleagues and world class faculty. However, within 8 weeks, I have come to realize that IMD is not just any school, this is a unique experience that will test and impact every aspect of your personality.

A lot has happened in the last 8 weeks. From Risk models and Cartel Pricing to Snow excursions and Leadership camps, we are being exposed a host of different experiences. Add to this the start up projects, study groups, assignments and essays, and the plate looks quite full, if not brimming. But this is not all. Not even close.

What makes IMD a truly transforming experience is the systematic way in which the course intends to bring behavioral changes in candidates. A key lever to this is diversity within the class. Probably the most “glorified” word in the corporate world in recent times, we all know how organizations are trying to leverage diversity to foster creativity and growth. IMD is doing this and something more. It is harnessing diversity to create world class leaders.

The 2019 IMD MBA scholarship winners

90 people, 39 nationalities. Add to this the differences in age, experience, industries and educational background, and you know it’s a riot of flavors (or maybe just a riot!). But at IMD, diversity is not a poster boy. It is a strategic tool to test and transform personalities. As fancy as it sounds on paper, the fact is that most managers don’t know how to deal with diversity, let alone embrace or harness it. At IMD, candidates are being taught to develop this skill by what I call an EPIC strategy.

It starts with cranking up the pressure levels in a highly diverse environment, which Exposes all aspects of one’s personality. To ensure that you don’t miss on any fault lines, feedback sessions and coach interventions are strategically placed to drive the point home. Following the exposure, comes the Planning phase. Equipped with the knowledge of your blind spots and a better understanding of your unconscious behaviors, you are now required to put in place your own behavioral development plan. However, every good plan has to be put into effect and helping us in Implementation are our PDE analysts. Having deep understanding of subconscious driven behavioral patterns, they are our guides as we enter the realm of grey (matter). And finally, comes the Change of perspective and personality, enabling us to become a truly global leader.

As we embark upon this adventure, I feel exposed, but I also feel strong. I feel lost, but I also feel anchored. I know that with me in this journey are 89 others and they won’t let me fall. They will push me till I reach the finish line. And with them as my secure base, I feel ready to change, more than ever before!

Swati Dalal

Leadership development in practice

This week was different from the very beginning. It actually started on Sunday afternoon, when the Magic90 reached IMD’s doors to get to know what was awaiting us in the first Leadership experimental – the first of the many elements of the IMD MBA leadership stream – the heart and the backbone of our MBA journey.

The Prelude

It all began so innocently. We met our coaches, got to know the initial exercise and were sent to the dungeons (study rooms!) to start discussions within our six-person study groups. Plain and simple. The magic happened later…

In the evening we lowered our masks and hung up our personas to share a few pages from the books of our lives. Going home few hours later, we knew each other better than we would have thought the day before. And that was just the start, a prelude to the following days. Tired, thankful and excited we were looking forward to the experience.

The experimental

The next days were full of activities in the beautiful (yet cold 🙂 ) Swiss mountains. Physical and mental challenges to solve, discussions to be held, feedbacks to give and receive. However, that was only the surface, something that a cameraman would record in a documentary movie summarizing ‘student adventures’. The true story lies deeper, invisible to the naked eye.

Emotions. We experienced a lot of them. Positive and negative, mild and extreme. Excitement, passion, frustration, sadness, you name it. We lived through them together and individually. Although uncomfortable at times, they let us be even more who we really are.

Discovery. What is critical is that we have not stopped at living our emotions. It was a challenging learning experience about recognizing and analysing what happens to us, to the others and why, when working together on a joint task. How do we react to certain behaviours? How do our actions influence others? What is the impact of emotions and feelings for the effectiveness of a team?

As an example, I remember the discussions we had while analysing the challenges we solved vs. those we did not manage to cope with. One of the learnings was the importance of communication, giving each other enough space to share ideas and identify the talents and knowledge some of us had that were highly relevant for a given task. Sounds simple, does it not? But so often people think they ‘know better’ instead of listening to others…

Irrespective of how trivial it sounds, we realized and felt how critical the human, soft factor is in everything we do. And that is something you cannot learn in a class. You need to experience it.

The impact

Today’s business environment is a world of teams. We may have the brightest minds and most creative ideas in an organization but it will not take us far if we don’t manage to collaborate with and lead others. This week we made a few additional steps to better understand who we are and how we can effectively interact with others. Self-awareness and leadership – two simple words. Mastering them is a difficult and long path, but the award awaits those who dare to walk it persistently.

The award of truly connecting to inspiring and fascinating people that we onboard onto this journey. Financial and business success will be just by-products.

With warmest thoughts to my team: Anya, Kerry, Surbhi, Mischa and Tiziano.

Lukasz