One of the most important parts of the Executive MBA is for candidates to grow and develop as leaders. The Executive Leadership Journey (ELJ) runs throughout the two years of the Executive MBA and is designed help candidates grow into the future leaders of business and society.

This is achieved by using different tools and experiential learning situations using the ImpactLab™ approach to leadership development. This incorporates cross-disciplinary, experiential learning that challenges candidates to get to know themselves better, gain confidence and ultimately change their behaviour to make them better leaders.

Not only have we witnessed the profound effect the ImpactLab™ approach has on our students, others are recognising it too. The ImpactLab™ has been listed as an Innovation that inspires, awarded by the global accreditation organisation AACSB.

We are in conversation with the Director of Open Programmes and Executive Degree Programmes, an Executive Leadership Coach and two current Executive MBA candidates to find out more about the ELJ.

What is the Executive Leadership Journey?

The Executive MBA takes candidates who are amazing executors, experts and specialists, but perhaps lack the skills to lead teams or are not always aware of the impact they have on others or can’t communicate their enthusiasm. The role of the Executive MBA is to get candidates out of these often self-imposed roles to become responsible leaders.

Over the two years of the programme, they are taught this through a combination of academic learning, integrated into the core curriculum, and personal development from experiential learning experiences. Beate Baldwin, Director of Open Programmes and Executive Degree Programmes, discussed enhancing soft skills:

Beate BaldwinPersonal development and soft skills are even harder to attain than the knowledge side because it takes time and people don’t really think about who they are. Nevertheless, we believe that people can grow through self-awareness, which is one the foundations of the Executive Leadership Journey.

Prepared beforehand by psychometric tests with individual feedback , the three steps to enact personal development and leadership on the ELJ are experiential coaching sessions with Executive Coaches, the Performance Simulator and Equine Affinity.

Step 1: Experiential coaching with Executive Coaches

One of the key parts of the ELJ is the tailored coaching sessions. In the first year, they do group coaching; psychometric reports and in the second year, they have individual coaching sessions to finalise their journey.

Mariano Tufró is one of the Executive Coaches on the programme. He is the founder and Director of Leadership Minds, a company specialising in applied experiential workshops. He talked about the benefit of group coaching sessions:

The number one thing they gain is application, connecting the theory to the practice. The second thing they gain is feedback from each other – I create an environment where people feel more and more comfortable to give feedback to each other as students. They can say things that people from their work wouldn’t say to them.

In addition, the group coaching sessions are experiential which means that candidates relate what they are learning in the classroom to real-world situations of their experience at work. Mariano also commented on the success of the Executive Leadership Journey in general:

Not many Executive MBAs offer this. It’s very easy for people to get into an Executive MBA and think finance, marketing, operations, logistics are the main subjects. I think that’s a big miss because if you don’t know how to lead people, the more senior you get, the more likely you are to fail. The number one thing people are getting from this is an understanding of how to be a leader and that sets Imperial apart.

Step 2: ImpactLab™ Becoming authentic leaders with the Performance Simulator

The Performance Simulator is unique to Imperial College Business School. This is a collaborative project with the Royal College of Music and demonstrates our link between the College’s STEM background and the liberal arts by utilising advanced technology to grow candidates’ leadership skills.

The Performance Simulator is a tool where students can present in front of a virtual audience. Their heartbeat is measured before, during and after presenting. The simulator brings to attention a blind spot of non-verbal cues that students might not be aware they’re doing under stress. After the session, the psychologist gives feedback to help grow self-awareness.

Claire Hardy, Director of Corporate Affairs and Global CSR at Worldpay, is a current student on the Executive MBA who used the Performance Simulator. Her team were given a task to complete in a very short deadline, which she had to present individually to a panel of digital judges. She said:

When I was presenting I was very calm. However, when we stopped, my heartbeat started going wild. It was almost like I was trying to suppress the emotion to survive the pain of the presentation. That was very interesting to see.

Executive Leadership JourneyThis insight on her presentation skills helped Claire’s authentic leadership, which is an important goal of the Executive Leadership Journey. She said, “It helps us think about how we can improve our ability to connect with others. From a more practical standpoint, we’re given some extremely useful frameworks and tools to help us get the best out of ourselves and, naturally, this will influence how we then lead our own teams.”

Claire looks forward to booking another session in the Performance Simulator before she finishes her Executive MBA to fully utilise the guidance of the experts on hand.

Step 3: ImpactLab™ Experiencing empathy with Equine Affinity

There are 12 key competencies the Executive Leadership Journey covers, one of the most important of these is empathy. Beate noted that Executive MBAs who are high achievers often lack empathy, but this is an important skill to develop:

Empathy is one stepping point to develop other competencies – including relationship management, conflict management, team management and inspirational leadership. Without empathy, you won’t play out these competencies at your best because you need to understand what’s happening with the other.

However, the question remains; how do we experience empathy? The answer is Equine Affinity, developing leadership through interaction with horses. Executive MBA candidates are taken out of the classroom for a one-day workshop with horses.

Junaid Bajwa Executive MBAJunaid Bajwa, Global Lead for Strategic Alliances at MSD (Merck Sharp and Dohme), is a current student on the Executive MBA. Before the Equine Affinity experience as part of his Executive Leadership Journey, he had little experience in working with animals. As part of this, he, among his fellow classmates, was required to work with horses to guide them around a courtyard. This experience taught Junaid about the importance of empathy, a key feature for successful leadership:

What was really powerful about Equine Affinity was to learn empathy in a way that isn’t just from a textbook and lectures, and how to leverage empathy to lead an animal through non-verbal communication, for example body language, gentle control and other emotional sentiments.

Overall, through having to work with and guide horses during this experience, Junaid had a key learning about leadership. He said:

Leadership is not about the individual leader, but about those who follow you. During this exercise, I observed that I could try and be forceful and pull the horse along but that get me anywhere. It wasn’t until I began to try and utilise non-verbal cues, signal things in a different way and try to understand what the horse was feeling that things began to click, and it became easier to lead the horse into completing the relatively rudimentary task of walking through a courtyard.

Equine Affinity demonstrates that empathy is about understanding others before you can understand yourself. Beate said, “It is a different way of communicating and it brings you back to the tipping point of how do you understand the other, and do you put time into understanding the other.”

Claire and Junaid shared an insight into how their leadership developed through the Executive Leadership Journey

Claire: “I have a much better understanding of my own motivations and leadership style. We’re all busy with our day jobs and life commitments, so we often we don’t think about these in detail. This time last year I didn’t know what type of leader I wanted to be. The difference now is that I’m more aware of how my behaviours change in highly stressful situations and can therefore apply myself to control these better.

In the workplace, it happens time and time again that people slip into not acting as we should in our teams. I now realise how to spot the signs of diminishing productivity and how I can make changes to prevent certain pressures pulling colleagues apart. My meetings and decision making are far more effective and people have noticed that in my work. There’s always going to be challenges ahead but I feel like I’m more prepared for them.”

Junaid: “For me, there are three dimensions: those who I lead (my team) those who I lead or work with (my peer group) and those who lead me (my manager). For those who I lead, I’ve become more confident in the role and use academic examples to complement work that needs to happen day-to-day. Within my peer group, I am more curious about understanding them. It’s not just the individual function that will deliver results for the company in my mind, it’s how we collectively function as a group. With those who manage me, managing upwards is not something I necessarily felt I was very good at. What I’ve come to understand about myself through the MBA is that I do need to improve upon not just being reflective in myself, but also how I handle conflict and how I manage and negotiate through a common position of success.”