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Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 4pm

Enriching Leadership Skills through Diversity of Experience

Leadership skills and diversity of experience

I remember it as if it were yesterday when my boss clapped me on the shoulders saying, “congratulations Martin, you are nominated for the IMPM!” Frankly, that was the first time I’d heard about the International Masters in Practicing Management (editor’s note: This is a certificate program aimed at experienced managers, and in which participants can also complete master’s degree requirements for a qualification from McGill University or Lancaster University). I was a bit confused as to why I should participate in a master’s program after already working in the industry for around 30 years and having a full diploma degree (in Germany, the equivalent of a master’s degree) in economics. So, still with a question mark in my face I said, “wow, that’s fantastic,” not knowing that this would be exactly the truth. During my career I went through a great deal of training, but the IMPM was the only one that created a fundamental and sustainable change.

I started my career as an officer in the German Army and, after 12 years, took on a middle management position in the aviation industry. Leadership skills seemed to come naturally to me: The boss gives the order, subordinates follow. Why lose time with endless discussion if things are clear anyway? Although my stomach told me that something was wrong with this way of thinking, the acceptance of the obvious was not yet there. Honestly, reflecting on my own behavior and taking respective action was not really my strength.

From the German Army to the IMPM at McGill Desautels

So, hiking in the hills and lakes during our first IMPM module (based at Lancaster University Management School in the UK) felt like a treatment against withdrawal symptoms from habits and prejudices, while opening a new universe full of insights and understanding missed opportunities in the past. Learning about business ethics, the power of authority and the way of life followed by the Quakers opened my mind and laid the foundation for an evolving, reflective mindset.

How to transfer understanding into personal learning and helping to hone my management and leadership skills in a better way, was a technique introduced in Lancaster and developed further in all of the five modules that are run by Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, in partnership with four other business schools around the world. Next to content-based learning, self-awareness and a deep understanding about my own strengths and deficits grew at the same time.

Back in Germany I chose the topic of ‘authentic leadership’ for the subject of my first so-called ‘reflection paper’ which, from then on, ran like a thread through the remaining modules and into my ongoing professional career. I started to think about things like ‘purpose’, ‘integrity’, ‘discipline’, ‘trust’ and ‘value-based management’, all key elements of authentic leadership skills.

Excellence in diversity: Montréal to Bangalore and Beijing

After gaining a better understanding about the ideals I would like to stand for as a leader, I searched for everything and anything that might further my understanding about how to achieve this position during the program’s subsequent modules.

At McGill Desautels, in Montréal, the linear module structure shifted me into an analytical mindset and offered strategic guidance on supplying necessary direction to the members of my team.

The program’s module in vibrant Bangalore - which was completely unlike Montreal – increased my openness to new ideas and turned the risk of the unknown into an opportunity. “Excellence comes from diversity, not from conformity,” is one of the sentences I wrote into a reflection book written by all participants in the program. This also helped me later to understand how to find the right people for tasks.

It was an accidental occurrence that, during the program’s module in Beijing, I was offered a new job in the very same city, which would start a few months later. All that we learned in China about the so-called ‘Guanxi- the building up of relationships and how to manage them was so helpful for me in advance of my new position.

But the IMPM is not just intercultural training; this perspective would be far too narrow. The module was more decisive for me to understand how to implement a strategy by managing the relevant stakeholders, regardless of whether they are individuals, organizations or institutions. The ability to identify and to manage stakeholders by relationship management is deeply anchored in the Chinese culture and supported me in getting things moving in the right direction. True, in most areas of the world the decision-making process rests less on the impact of relationships than it does in China. But the fundamental point remains, that true collaboration is a key factor for success in cultures all over the world, especially when it is in evidence all the way from planning to implementation.

At a time when compliance rules and anti-bribery clauses are becoming a natural part of business, it can be questioned whether the culture of doing business in China is something that can offer a model for collaboration elsewhere. But learning does not mean copying. We learned to reflect in Lancaster. In Montréal, we were prepared to analyze a system; in Bangalore, to transfer observation and learning into our own working environment. All these modules proved crucial to identify and understand the elements of China’s system of collaboration which could support us in being more successful in our own managerial contexts and professional relationship.

Reflections in Rio

After four fantastic, but also exhausting, modules, we were all looking forward to travelling to Rio de Janeiro for our last module. At Copacabana, a dream became true and yes, we also found time to learn, even under these ‘difficult’ conditions. Action was the key topic of this module and we met people in Rio putting positive action at the center of their lives by helping those living in the favelas to improve their lives – talking with them, enjoying arts performances and visiting their training center left a really deep impression. Value creation is one element of authentic leadership, as mentioned before, and value is created by doing something that is good for the other, not for the self. This is an essential part of our responsibility if we want to be respected as businesspeople or entrepreneurs.     

I gained uncounted new impressions from impressive people and different cultures during the course of the program. There was so much to learn and observe, and all of the ways to implement new and authentic leadership skills really inspired me – especially the practical part of it, visiting companies and talking to people not in the classroom but in their own environment. Four years on from finishing the program and it is still part of my daily memories. If I could, I would do it again!

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Martin Schamberg is a graduate of the International Masters in Practicing Management (IMPM) program.

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