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!