What I learnt from my executive education course
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
German. Middle management programme, ESMT, 2021. Head of public IT security consulting, head of Hamburg office, Infodas GmbH, Germany
Why did you decide to study an executive education course?
As my career progressed, I wanted to learn new leadership methods — for example, how to lead in the sandwich position, between the department and top management, and align different expectations. On the course, colleagues and I discussed different leadership challenges we faced, exchanged ideas, and received advice from coaches and other executives. Part of the training was done remotely, which was helpful for me because I have team members in different locations all working together on projects. I learned different communication techniques — including questioning, conversational and negotiation skills — to structure one-on-one meetings more efficiently. I also received valuable input on presenting and preparing quantitative data for management reviews with various stakeholders. The shift in mindset has helped me identify and raise potential in others, as well as myself. It is like having a sharper view, without the filters that were there before.
American. The positive leader, University of Michigan: Ross, 2018. Director, foreign military sales, General Dynamics Land Systems, Michigan
Did anything surprise you about the course?
It’s very personal. Often, people think about leadership as being impact on others, but much of the curriculum was to look at yourself first. Take an inventory of where and who you are. Are you ready to learn? Do you have a growth mindset? If you don’t, then you may have just wasted your money. Are you prepared to change? So I think that was the thing that surprised me — that it was inward-facing to start with. And from that, you’re able to generate change. You’re more open to taking the lessons in and really applying them. The most important thing that the course taught me is: To be a leader, you must first destroy your ego. We have got to be willing to look at what we’re doing, be prepared to be challenged and then accept those things, and change and move.
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Olivia de Roubaix
French. Unileaders leadership programme, Edhec, graduates 2022. Business unit director, Unilabs Paris
How do you use what you learned on the course in your everyday work?
The biggest lesson from the course was that there are many different forms of leadership, and each of us must find a way to assert leadership in a way that fits our personality. Another thing I learned is that if you want employees to follow you, you need to know where you are going. I always remind myself and my team of the overall vision and objectives to give them the drive and the clarity to move forward with me. I focus on three things that I believe are critical to success for employees and the company: creating a positive and supportive work atmosphere for everyone; encouraging nurturing relationships between employees and managers; and ensuring that workers are engaged and interested in their work.
Ellen De Belder
Belgian. Digital Leadership, Vlerick, 2021. Head of business process management, Signify. Lives in Belgium, works in Netherlands
What was the most important lesson you learned on the course?
As part of my role, I am on a mission to reshape business process management for the digital age. What I liked a lot about the course is that it builds on best practice from the market. I learned many lessons to help me drive change, but if I needed to select one, I would choose the four competitive realities in the digital age. Companies that are successful in their transformation confront every project with the following in mind: customer experience is value; customers are moving targets; digital ecosystems co-create value; and digital platforms boost value co-creation. Successful companies build the capabilities they need and develop the skills to face these new realities. And denying these might result in missing new opportunities, being oblivious to competitors and misunderstanding the needs of customers.
Chinese. Senior Executive Programme, Shanghai Jiao Tong: Antai, 2022. Manager, charging ecological strategy and public charging business, SAIC Volkswagen, Shanghai
What advice would you give prospective executive education students?
Choose the right time to take the course: it is best to start an executive programme after two or three years of work because by this time you have some professional experience, know what difficulties and challenges you have encountered, and you can learn with purpose. Then, apply what is taught to your life and work. Any knowledge must be used or it doesn’t make sense. For example, I am currently building SAIC-Volkswagen’s public charging ecology. When my company wants to invest in a charging station, and I need to calculate the potential value, I will use the “corporate investment and financing and capital operation” course to help me. Finally, communicate with your classmates. They are in different industries, which can add meaningful inspiration and be no less valuable than what you learn from your professors.