I've just returned from a transformational week back at IMD for their top-ranked High Performance Leadership program! This time five years ago I was organizing my move to Lausanne, completing pre-work assignments, and preparing for a life changing experience. As I flew across the Atlantic last week, completing preparatory work for this IMD program, I couldn't help but feel a little déjà vu!
After four years of putting into practice the many things I learned during the IMD MBA, I thought it was time for a refresher. The very last session of our MBA was on grief and separation, taught by George Kohlrieser, a business school professor with a very unique background. As a clinical psychologist and former police hostage negotiator, he has a very different perspective on leadership and communication. After that day I read his books (Check out Hostage at the Table and Care to Dare) but I had always hoped to work directly with him. He leads IMD's week-long High Performance Leadership program so I bit the bullet and signed up!
While I was excited to return to IMD, I was also somewhat anxious. Would I learn anything new? Would this short program meet the high expectations that had been set by my [perhaps somewhat idealized] memory of the MBA? Or would it be a waste of money and, worse, time? And if it were quite beneficial, would it be as painful as those first few weeks of our program? Our leadership stream was full of deep personal reflection and tough feedback from teammates - was I up for that again?
Indeed this program did feel a lot like the first weeks of the MBA. 54 execs from around the world started the course wearing our personas and engaging in superficial conversation. Several of the attendees reminded me a lot of my MBA classmates. Even some of the faces on IMD's side were the same, including two of our leadership coaches. There were fruit baskets outside our auditorium every day and, of course, theIMD restaurant was amazing as always!
There were many differences from the MBA program, though, as well. We were in the Nestle executive education building and there was something quite symbolic about spending the week on the other side of the street. Instead of raiding leftover food from the executive programs, we were the ones leaving those leftovers. And naturally mid-career executives whose companies have paid for one week training don't have the same deep commitment to learning as MBAs who have moved around the world and dedicated an entire year of their lives. Also there were no cases to prepare or homework at night. None of us were sleeping much but that had more to do with late nights at the bar than with group projects or writing papers. So perhaps this was a taste of what it would have been like to attend the Insead MBA!
The week was packed with putting fish on the table, giving and receiving candid feedback, learning in the auditorium and putting that learning into practice in our seven-person coaching groups. I was actually really impressed with how quickly the walls came down for everyone such that we could get down to open, honest work on our leadership skills.
It was a very emotionally charged week as well. George does a lot of work with grief (both personal and professional), which can severely impact leadership performance when bottled up or left unaddressed. Additionally we spent a lot of time analyzing past events and relationships (both good and bad) that shaped who we are as leaders today. I think it was a bit of a shock to most participants, who suddenly found themselves crying and sharing and hugging rather than learning "formulas" for efficient management.
For me it was an incredibly impactful week! I found myself naturally slipping into roles that I had assumed during the MBA: the "professor" trying to help others in my group through keen insights and rational models. My teammates managed to call me out on it such that I refocused those efforts back at myself and discovered some quite significant areas for development. I would call those discoveries more than "significant," actually; "profound" would be a better word. And, if I can follow through on them, hopefully "transformational" for my leadership.
I see now why High Performance Leadership consistently receives the highest ratings of IMD's open programs. It takes what IMD does best (deep, personal development of leadership) and focuses on it in a very personalized way for an entire, intense week. Unlike the MBA program, which balances the leadership stream with finance, accounting, marketing, etc. this was 100% leadership focused. If any of you are also looking for an opportunity for continued learning, I would strongly recommend it. In fact, the next session is in April in the US (San Francisco Bay area), so it would be more convenient travel-wise for my North American friends. Shout out if you'd like to learn more about my particular experience.
After this sabbatical, I feel more motivated and focused than ever to be the world changer that I hope and strive to be. In all areas of my life I aim for constant improvement, working smarter not harder, and this was a tremendous step in that direction. Working with IMD's professors, my team, and our leadership coach, I put together a concrete action plan to take my efforts to the next level. That plan is already in effect and my teammates are holding me accountable. So . . . game on!
To follow up my last post on shedding body fat, I promised to share some details of my nutritional plan. I find that I do best when I have a few, simple rules to follow rather than making things too complex, so here they are in descending order of what I believe to be most impactful:
1. No sugar. What I really mean here is no added sugar. Natural sugars occur everywhere but my point is not to eat anything in which sugar has been added as a sweetener - in any form. No sugar. No high fructose corn syrup. No evaporated cane syrup. Nothing. I used to believe that synthetic processed sugars were bad for you because the body didn't know what to do with them so I ate natural, organic, etc. sugar as much as I wanted. Recently, though, I began to see evidence that any kind of sugar was bad for you. It's not something your body needs to function, so I decided just to eliminate it outright.
When you start reading labels and strictly adhere to a no-added-sugar policy, there are three side effects: A. Very quickly your taste buds adjust. We're so used to being inundated with added sugar that our taste buds have become desensitized to the stuff. Kick the habit and, before long, even a tiny bit of sweetness, e.g. that occurring in carrots or peanut butter, tastes wow sweet. B. That eliminates most processed foods which are usually chok full of added sugar. C. It also dramatically reduces your restaurant menu options as many sauces have added sugar. The net result is that you wind up eating more foods that you make yourselves, with fewer, better ingredients. It should come as no surprise, then, that you lose fat.
2. No grains or starches. Speaking of things your body doesn't need, I eliminated grains and starches too. No wheat, no rice, no potatoes. I found many claims that these types of foods could have adverse effects on blood sugar, insulin, and fat storage and even that they left you craving more, so I pulled the plug. This was a big change for me! So much of my diet used to consist of bread and stuff to put on bread. I thought it was fine as I was mostly eating sprouted whole grains. Eliminating bread and its cousins, though, seems to have had a huge effect on my body composition.
How did I do it, though? I get desperate cravings for "bready" things, especially sweet bready things. My world changed when during a visit to The Shop I tasted carrot cake made with almond flour. It tasted bready but instead of wheat it used almonds. It tasted sweet but instead of sugar it used carrots (See above for how my sweetness sensitivity had been reset.). I soon discovered that basically anything sweet and bready that I liked could be baked in this way, without grains, starches, or added sugar. And I could eat as much of it as I wanted because eating the equivalent of lots of almonds is really filling!
Elana's Pantry became a great resource for me, although I cut out the sugar in her recipes. Check out my recipes for banana bread, carrot cake, and peanut butter chocolate chip cupcakes - all delicious and all pretty good for you! Again, I don't know whether to attribute the fat loss to the elimination of grains and starches per se or whether it was more a result of the fact that I was eating more foods that I had baked myself with good ingredients rather than prepared foods but the outcome is the same regardless.
3. Only local, sustainably procured fish and meat. This is for both nutritional and environmental reasons. I won't eat fish if I don't know where it came from (nearby) and how it was caught (or more likely farmed and treated with lots of chemicals) and I won't eat meat if I don't know where it came from (nearby), what/how it ate (its natural habitat/foods), and whether or not it was pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.
In practice this makes me mostly vegetarian plus some fish (We have plenty of local, sustainably caught fish here in the Gulf Coast.) and even less meat. If a restaurant can't answer the above questions, I'll just assume the worst. So here again, by virtue of the hard rule I set, I wind up eating more nutrition-dense, low-calorie foods like fresh veggies. Fill up on those and you can't not lose fat!
4. Intermittent fasting. I heard about intermittent fasting through The Shop and was intrigued by what I read online. There were all kinds of alleged benefits (increased HGH production, etc.) without much consensus around them but the main point was . . . getting ripped! So I decided to try a 24-hour fast. Yes, for 24 hours I ingested only water. I liked the results so much that I made it a regular part of my routine.
The primary benefit of the fast for me is psychological. I'm the type of person who has traditionally eaten frenetically when hungry - even eating preventatively if I thought I might get hungry later (usually a sure bet!). The fast helped me change my relationship with hunger. I would get hungry, yes, but I wouldn't eat, and yet the world didn't come to an end. In fact my hunger subsided. When I finally broke my fast it wasn't voraciously as a malnourished human on the brink of death but rather as a calm, centered person more aware of his physical needs. This has been really helpful to me in taking control of my eating habits rather than letting them control me.
The other benefit of fasting is creating a caloric deficit. I burn ~3,300 calories per day on average. When I don't ingest any calories to compensate, that creates a caloric deficit that equates to nearly one pound of body fat. The challenge with this approach is that the human body generally adapts quite efficiently to calorie-restrictive diets. Lower your caloric intake and pretty quickly your body lowers its metabolic burn rate accordingly, resulting in plateaued fat loss. Therefore the "best practice" for the intermittent fasting routine I was trying was to conduct the fast at most once a week (to avoid adaptation) and on days with low exercise/energy needs.
Instead of fasting routinely, I've simply adopted a policy of fasting on airplane travel days. These are days when I have low caloric needs and poor access to good food anyway. They're also days that come irregularly and unpredictably such that my body can't adapt to some kind of schedule. That amounts to ~16 fasts conducted this year, on days when I'm burning ~2,600 calories.
Put all this together and you have the main culprits in my recent body composition change. My activity levels and exercise program have remained largely unchanged over the last six months so I really believe the answers are in here. Anyone who has eaten with me will know that there are some exceptions to the above. My wine habit doesn't really fit in, for example, and sometimes an airplane fast might be only 22 hours for scheduling reasons. But by and large I've been sticking with it - and loving the results.