RACHEL OKINE, inaugural Natalie Miller Fellowship recipient, reports on her participation in The Women’s Leadership Forum: Innovation Strategies for a Changing World, at Harvard Business School (Executive Education) from June 3-7 2013 as part of her professional development proposal.
What I learned at Harvard… officially
The intensive curriculum was broken down into a number of teaching modules. These generally began with reading a case study (all reading was completed in the weeks leading up to the course), and covered the following content in class.
We were told that the first priority at a corporate governance level was learning how to recognize which aspects of your business you must do badly, in order to do your core business well (i.e. choosing your sacrifices). We were also given advice about how to influence behaviour in others, the importance of personal connection and likeability in leadership, and how to blend projections of warmth with competence.
This module also encompassed how to read facial expressions as a means of understanding deeper layers of meaning, and ways to influence your power and confidence levels through body language. Many participants were particularly responsive to this aspect of the lecture which was given by Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS. (For those interested, there is a great TED talk by her on this topic).
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, spoke about the importance of confidence and how to reverse a losing cycle or maintain a winning streak, while negotiation expert Francesca Gino used a complex multiparty case study to talk about negotiation skills and how to maximize the outcomes for all parties. (This was particularly useful and relevant for my line of work).
Using Ernest Shackleton’s famous Endurance story as the case study, another module taken by Nancy Koehn covered key leadership skills to employ in times of crisis, and included the importance of having an excellent 2IC and knowing how to deal with poisonous people. Nancy Koehn was the most impressive of all the lecturers, particularly in light of her relentless health problems which she shared us at the beginning of her class. (She jokingly referred to herself as Calamity Jane, given that in the past few years she’d had breast cancer twice, fallen from a horse and broken her pelvis, and was recovering from a serious eye operation – none of which seemed to slow her down at all).
Other topics included:
- Personalising your leadership style (with a nod to expressing vulnerability, trusting instincts and team appreciation/reward, via a study of Oprah Winfrey’s career trajectory)
- An analysis of a complicated HR problem at the top level of a brokerage firm (including how to deal with a star employee who cannot work with others, and how to improve the performance of employees in the middle of the bell curve and keep employees caring deeply about their job).
- Learning how to overcome the need for perfection. (This lecture was from Thomas DeLong, the only male lecturer in the course and apparently something of a rock star on the academic circuit).
- Balancing the work/life conundrum, a lecture by Leslie Perlow which resonated deeply with a lot of the women in the course.
- How to effectively change a corporate culture – identifying collective frustrations and channeling them into collective goals for change.
- Tips for getting on to a board by retired MBA Professor of Management Practice, Myra Hart.
In a more general sense, recurring themes over the course were about working towards a life purpose, and taking responsibility for the progress of others and the importance of mentorship.
The day’s lectures were also interspersed with group activities to get us interacting, and it seemed that each problem-solving activity was expressly designed to get us to open up more to each other and trust each other, as well as to illustrate a core aspect of leadership skill. For example: through a complex physical navigation exercise we were taught the importance of how to fail well, calculate risk and speed up the learning cycles by flexibly changing approach.
We were also given an exercise in which we wrote a letter to ourselves from 10 years in the future, highlighting all the major achievements and setbacks that had happened in that time. This was a very emotional exercise for many, and an excellent way to frame how we might progress forward given the perspective of 10 years “future” hindsight. In short, working out what is really important in life, and defining success.
In addition to this, each morning after an early breakfast we got together with our ‘Board of Advisors’ group in which we worked through our individual learning challenges.
My group comprised a senior IT management consultant from the US, the head of corporate communications from one of Africa’s largest breweries, and one of the deputy director generals from a pan-European Central bank. We were all responsible for contributing to the development of the other participants in the group, and were guided through these mornings by an executive leadership coach who covered, amongst other things, ways to bring the best out of our personal presentation and public speaking styles, and methods of language choice to enhance communication.
Also significant were the non-course components, that is, the opportunities we had for socializing and getting to know each other better, which we did over meals and around our homework each evening. This aspect felt as important to the course in terms of long term relationship-building, as the curriculum was during the daytime.
What I learned at Harvard… unofficially
- How not to be crippled by fear, intimidated by fancy job titles, and the dreaded ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
- Obstacles are inevitable, but they are also the sure-fire way to know that you’re trying to achieve something worth doing.
- Being the only woman in the room happens to all of us – forge ahead regardless.
- Fear and excitement are two sides of the same coin.
- Teamwork is crucial to any successful endeavor.
- Mentorship is critical – both to give and to receive.
- Very successful women very often have faith. They almost always have paid domestic help. And they disproportionately also seem to have lovers on the side (true story!)
General notes on the experience
Obviously the campus was beautiful and iconic – it made for a very humbling impression from the moment we set foot on the grounds. Everything ran like clockwork and it was quickly apparent that the tutors and lecturers were at the very top of their game.
The group of women doing the course were also very impressive – many director-level participants, CEOs, CFOs, MDs, general managers and business owners. A third of the 64 participants were from the US, a disproportionate 12 came from Australia (the Harvard Business School staff are intrigued as to what’s going on in Oz in women’s leadership, as their applications for this program out of Australia are skyrocketing). There were a handful of participants from Africa, a few from Central and South America, a couple from the Middle East and the remainder from Europe. It was really illuminating to get a perspective on which issues specifically affected different women once you put their cultural context into the equation.
At 35, I was one of the youngest participants (the youngest was 33) and the bulk of participants were in their 40s, 50s and early 60s. Once I finally conquered my imposter syndrome, I realized how much we all had in common, and how much we had to learn from each other’s life setbacks and achievements.
I came away from the experience with so much information buzzing around in my head, it was quite overwhelming. I thought at first that it was my responsibility to completely overhaul my leadership and management style by incorporating everything I’d learned into my job as soon as I came back.
I’ve slowly come to realize that it’s an ongoing process, and the course curriculum (both official and unofficial) was structured to give its participants tools that can be applied to challenging circumstances over the course of a career, some of which I think I’ve already managed to implement.
More specifically, I think it’s helped me be clearer and more courageous in asking for what I need to be able to progress; being able to better define the unique value that I can add to my organization; championing the career advancement of others; looking for creative ways to improve corporate practices and structure; and public presentation skills.
Additional information about the lecturers:
Myra M. Hart
MBA Class of 1961 Professor of Management Practice, Retired
Myra Hart’s research focus is high potential entrepreneurship. She has taught MBA and executive programs, co-chaired the entrepreneurship unit, and led several HBS initiatives. As a founding member of the Diana Group, Hart and a team of four other professors began collaboration in 2000 and subsequently developed an international research consortium focused on female entrepreneurship. She and her colleagues have co-authored Clearing the Hurdles: Women Building High Growth Businesses, Women Business Owners and Equity Capital: The Myths Dispelled, and Gatekeepers of Venture Growth: A Diana Project Report on the Role and Participation of Women in the Venture Capital Industry, as well as numerous journal articles, reports, and two edited books.
She has also developed more than 60 HBS cases and teaching notes.
Janice H. Hammond
Jesse Philips Professor of Manufacturing
Janice H. Hammond is the Jesse Philips Professor of Manufacturing at Harvard Business School. She currently teaches Technology and Operations Management in the HBS MBA program. She also serves faculty chair for the HBS MBA Pre-matriculation Analytics Program; and program chair for the HBS Executive Education International Women’s Foundation and Women’s Leadership Programs.
Amy J.C. Cuddy
Associate Professor of Business Administration, Hellman Faculty Fellow
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, uses experimental methods to investigate how people judge each other and themselves. Her research suggests that judgments along two critical trait dimensions – warmth/trustworthiness and competence/power – shape social interactions, determining such outcomes as who gets hired and who doesn’t, when we are more or less likely to take risks, why we admire, envy, or disparage certain people, elect politicians, or even target minority groups for genocide. Cuddy’s recent work focuses on how we embody and express these two traits, linking our body language to our hormone levels, our feelings, and our behavior. Her latest research illuminates how ‘faking’ body postures that convey competence and power (‘power posing’) – even for as little as two minutes — changes our testosterone and cortisol levels, increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better in job interviews, and generally configures our brains to cope well in stressful situations. In short, as David Brooks summarized the findings, ‘If you act powerfully, you will begin to think powerfully’.
Nancy F. Koehn
James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration
Nancy F. Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn’s research focuses on entrepreneurial leadership and how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact. She is currently working on a book about the most important lessons from six leaders’ journeys, including Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Shackleton and Rachel Carson. Her most recent book, The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times (Harvard Business Press, 2009), examines the people, events, and larger forces that have shaped business in the twenty-first century.
Leslie A. Perlow
Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership
Leslie Perlow is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership in the Organizational Behavior area at the Harvard Business School. She currently teaches Authentic Leadership Development in the MBA program and runs a doctoral seminar on the craft of qualitative inductive research. She recently published a new book, Sleeping with your Smartphone: How to Break the 24-7 Habit and Change the Way you Work.
Thomas J. DeLong
Philip J. Stomberg Professor of Management Practice
Thomas J. DeLong is the Philip J. Stomberg Professor of Management Practice in the Organizational Behavior area at the Harvard Business School. Before joining the Harvard Faculty, DeLong was Chief Development Officer and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley Group, Inc., where he was responsible for the firm’s human capital and focused on issues of organizational strategy and organizational change.
Rosabeth M. Kanter
Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration
Rosabeth Moss Kanter holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. Her strategic and practical insights have guided leaders of large and small organizations worldwide for over 25 years, through teaching, writing, and direct consultation to major corporations and governments. The former Editor of Harvard Business Review (1989-1992), Professor Kanter has been repeatedly named in lists of the ‘50 most powerful women in the world’ (Times of London), and the ‘50 most influential business thinkers in the world. In 2001, she received the Academy of Management’s Distinguished Career Award for her scholarly contributions to management knowledge; and in 2002 was named ‘Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year’ by the World Teleport Association, and in 2010 received the International Leadership Award from the Association of Leadership Professionals. She is the author or co-author of 18 books. Her latest book, SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, a manifesto for leadership of sustainable enterprises, was named one of the ten best business books of 2009 by Amazon.com.
Associate Professor of Business Administration
Francesca Gino an associate professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. She is also formally affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and with the Mind, Brain, Behaviour Initiative at Harvard.