We would like to introduce you to Jan Mühlfeit, global strategist, coach, mentor, author of bestseller The Positive Leader, and member of the Imperial College Business School Global Online MBA Advisory Board.

Jan has a proven record in building successful teams and organisations in his almost 22 year career at Microsoft, where he served in different executive positions. In his last role (2007—2014) he was Chairman of Europe, Microsoft Corporation.

Based on his global experience he created a unique methodology and course “unlock human potential” to uncover personal talents for individuals and teams. Jan teaches his courses on a worldwide scale and has worked with many prominent S&P 500 companies. Among his key clients are Exxon Mobile, GE, Dentons, Microsoft, Generali, UniCredit, Siemens, Bosch, Société General, Skoda, Skanska, and many others. Jan coaches high-level executives, Olympic Games winners and artists from different countries and continents.

We interview Jan about his role on the Advisory Board, how he contributes to the Global Online MBA and his advice on how to be a leader.

1. Why did you join the Global Online MBA Advisory Board?

I was invited by some students a couple of years ago to speak at a lesson at Imperial College Business School and while I was there I met Paolo Taticchi, Director of the Weekend and Global Online MBA. My perception on Imperial College was that it’s a university with a lot of young faculty and a dynamic environment.

After that visit I did begin to visit the Business School regularly, including the summer term, and I liked very much the faculty and the students. At the time I was in a global role as the Chairman for Europe and I was also running the executive committee for the global emerging markets for Microsoft. I really appreciated that there were a lot of students from around the world and I liked the programme.

When I began my departure from Microsoft, I started to heavily promote positive leadership which is nothing to do with positive thinking. It is looking at what is positive in people, what are the talents of the people, what are their strengths and enabling these strengths to inspire them. I think Imperial College is promoting these new ideas that unlock human potential, which is my mantra. It’s a win/win situation for me, I can promote what I do on the board and also be a member of the board.

I’m very proud to work with Imperial College and be part of the Advisory Board. I am looking forward to continuing in this capacity.

2. In what ways have you contributed to the Global Online MBA programme?

We have discussed what students should learn. On the content subscales, we have very a very strong emphasis on positive psychology. I do some online lessons and webinars during the term on this content.

3. How do you ensure the programme is relevant and up to date?

Every day I am working with global customers. I know from those customers what skills they require from MBA graduates. I was also working for many years with organisations like AIESEC, the biggest student organisation in the world, and Junior Achievement, an organisation promoting entrepreneurship. I have worked a lot with young people so I think I understand a lot about what I call the “disruptive generation”. It’s the first time in human history where the young generation understand how to use technology in a better way than the current generation. This is the feedback I’m getting and then I’m translating this into the relevant content.

4. What can students gain at Imperial College Business School that they can’t get anywhere else?

I think what Imperial College started to do in a very smart way is involving practitioners with global careers, like myself. Paolo and the team invite speakers to talk about their real experience to students. On one side they can gain great content but this content is also complementary to the practitioners. That is why Imperial College is unique and students from around the world are interested to study here.

5. You are known for your approach to leadership – unlocking human potential. How do you suggest MBA candidates unlock their potential?

The biggest thing in the world is self-awareness. Unless you are self-aware, you cannot understand other people. Unfortunately, the majority of the schools are teaching students what is around them rather than what is within them. Students should understand what their specific, unique talents are so they can base their career on those talents and not on their weaknesses. If you do something that you like or you are talented, then you are not only successful but you are happy. That’s where the best performance, what we call psychology flow, is happening. Flow is when the task you do is very challenging but you are at your best and are using the maximum of your talents.

Jan Mühlfeit (right) with Bill Gates (left).

6. What is your advice for anyone who is aspiring to be a leader?

First, they really need to understand who they are and what their talents are before they can understand others. Real leaders are putting people together. There is a lot of people synergy in those teams because they know what their talents and weaknesses are and where to cover those weaknesses with the talents of somebody else.

The other point is that great leaders are inspirational. So they find what is best in people, put them together and inspire them. Inspiration from Latin means “in spirit” or “in your soul”. You can inspire by vision which is having a picture of the world that does not exist yet. If you have great communication skills, other people begin to believe in your picture and they will follow you. A leader is not defined by their business card or by the fact that he/she is flying first class, a leader is defined by followers. People will follow you if they have variety and they are inspired.

7. Your career includes over 22 years at Microsoft, including Chairman of Microsoft Europe, publishing your successful book The Positive Leader and launching your own company. What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

My biggest accomplishment is not necessarily Microsoft. I like Microsoft very much but my biggest accomplishment is that I was able to put together my experience from Microsoft, package it and teach it. Today I am teaching businesses and am a mental coach for Olympic Games competitors, artists and children. Two days ago I was teaching kids from the orphanages and this is my biggest accomplishment. I can spread what I learned from working at Microsoft and outside of the business. And maybe it sounds arrogant but I feel that through this I am changing the world.

8. Most Global Online MBA students work and study at the same time. Why should a business sponsor an employee to do the Global Online MBA?

Shell recently did a study where they asked the big question: what does it take to be a top five company in the world for 200 years? They found that the only real determiner of how to get there and how to stay there for 200 years is your ability to learn. And the ability of the organisation to learn is determined by the ability of the different people in the organisation.

An MBA should be part of the learning process and I’m glad that Imperial College is changing the content of the MBA in a very modern way. Today, everything is changing and the only constant is change – that’s why people learn their whole career. Some people think life-long learning is cliché but it’s not. That’s why MBA is very important. Obviously, the content of the MBA needs to be adjusted to the current situation but that’s what Imperial College Business School is doing.

9. What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying an MBA at the Business School?

They should be very careful with what they are choosing and there are a couple of questions they should ask. First, will that school help me to understand more about who I am and help me develop my talent? Second, what is the faculty of that school? Are those people up-to-date and are they teaching new stuff? It’s about the content and the faculty. And the third point is finding out how this school will bridge help to bridge me between my MBA and a great career.