Managers must learn from their own experiences, not fabricated scenarios

The International Masters Programme for Managers appreciates the importance of learning from one’s own experience, using real-world business problems to help senior executives achieve the pinnacle of success

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Professor Henry Mintzberg, IMPM Founder and Chair, teaches the Managing Self: the Reflective Mindset module at Lancaster University

It’s been another hectic week: meetings at the office and overseas trips; developing the company’s strategy for the next three years; monitoring key performance targets and numbers; and responding to a crisis in one part of the business. It’s moments like these that can make you feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water.

Then, ping: another email. Apparently, it’s time you participated in a senior management development programme. You say to yourself: “This is just what I need, I’ve been thinking about an advanced management course for some time now.”

You consider the benefits of a programme that can take you away from the day-to-day running of your organisation, allowing you to focus on the latest global business trends and complete your management education to the highest level. But do you really have the time?

You think back to the last executive education course you attended. It was good enough, and you even picked up some helpful ideas in the classroom, but it focused on training and techniques without really providing you with new horizons for your business or challenging your way of thinking. You also remember wishing you had more time to interact with your peers on the programme.

When it finished, you returned to the usual thorny business dilemmas that require your judgement and decision-making skills. A few days later, the training you had just received started to become a rather distant memory.

Learning naturally
For more than 20 years, Lancaster and McGill universities’ International Masters Programme for Managers (IMPM) has been reinvigorating organisations by transforming the development of their senior executives. Uniquely, for a senior executive development programme that can lead to a master’s degree, IMPM is based on a philosophy of co-creation.

IMPM draws on the natural experiences of those participating, customising each individual’s development to their specific role, company and sector

In fact, as a rule, half of the time spent in the classroom is designated to the senior managers themselves, allowing them to discuss what’s on their own agendas. This gives executives the opportunity to consider each of their organisations’ individual needs and challenges, while giving them a forum to discuss new ways of approaching them. This ultimately ensures they get the most out of IMPM.

Beyond the classroom, we blend the other components of the programme with the requirements and schedules of the managers that attend as much as possible. This creates an environment rich in inquiry and dialogue, together with a strong sense of community. In all, more than 75 academic faculty from around the globe come together with our participants, bringing a wealth of experience in a dynamic context for learning and development. In a bid to further encourage this type of environment, the programme is structured around mindsets, rather than functions.

Specifically, mindsets are about different – yet connected – frames for seeing and experiencing the world. They synthesise and open up new ways of thinking and acting for individuals, organisations and society. That is how IMPM – composed of world-leading business schools in Europe, North America, East Asia, South Asia and South America – can develop senior executive practices as an art, craft and science.

Creating communities

IMPM focuses on the specific experience of the senior executives in attendance, providing a great forum for them to learn from each other. That said, there’s something far more powerful about learning from your own experience, which remains surprisingly untapped in senior executive education. As Anglo-American poet T S Eliot wrote: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

With this in mind, we believe executive education should be about developing and advocating meaning and significance for wise judgement and action informed by reflective insight. Indeed, this is the basis of good management and sound business action in dynamic and uncertain times. Reflecting on one’s own experience and sharing it with one’s peers and faculty is the real key to executive learning and development. This has been our experience with more than 600 alumni over 20 years.

As part of our sustained focus on experience, we designed the IMPM programme on the assumption that no senior executive has ever been created in the classroom. What a classroom can do, however, is take peers with similar levels of senior management experience and leverage that alongside their natural inclination to drive necessary change and innovation through demonstrated skills of leadership.

Organisations work best when they are communities of committed people that work in cooperative relationships, and under conditions of trust and respect

It is our view that organisations are communities of human beings, and not collections of human resources. Organisations work best when they are communities of committed people that work in cooperative relationships, and under conditions of trust and respect.

We also feature Henry Mintzberg’s aptly named theory of ‘communityship’, which is built through senior executives engaging with their team members deeply, as opposed to having a heroic leadership style that cures all ailments. Ultimately, we believe we need development programmes that commit to developing today’s senior executives.

Use work, more than making work

IMPM takes senior executives around the world to five 10-day modules that take place over the course of 16 months at world-leading business schools.

Each IMPM module focuses on a managerial mindset: Managing Self: the Reflective Mindset at Lancaster University; Managing Organisations: the Analytic Mindset at McGill University; Managing Relationships: the Collaborative Mindset at Yokohama University; Managing Change: the Action Mindset at FGV-EBAPE Rio; and Managing Context: the Worldly Mindset at IIM Bangalore.

Many of the executives participating in the programme are encouraged to do so by their employers, which, in turn, helps strengthen the connection between manager and business. That said, each year around half of the class is made up of individuals and entrepreneurs with a genuine, deep desire to improve their practice and further develop their business.

Remember the busy senior executive wishing they had time to go on a senior executive education programme? The last thing they need when taking time off for their development is to have even more work to do when they return to the business. This is why we “use work, more than making work”.

Senior executives these days are extremely busy people. The solution, therefore, is to use real-life work as a basis for learning, rather than create fictitious work to study. In other words, we draw on the natural experiences of those participating, customising each individual’s development to their specific role, company and sector for business impact.

If an executive development programme is to develop insight and innovation, shouldn’t its own design be insightful and innovative? This has been the vision of IMPM for more than 20 years, to challenge and transform the face of management development and learning. Many executive programmes promise a boot camp to keep everyone very busy. What they seem to be forgetting, however, is that most executives these days live a real-life boot camp every day.

What they desperately need, on the other hand, is to pause, step back and reflect thoughtfully on their own experience and discuss what’s on each other’s agenda in order to drive both their practice of leading and their businesses to new levels. The message of our own experience is that there is nothing so powerful as engaged senior executives committed to developing themselves and their communities.