2019: Boston

Harvard Business School: 26 July to 4 Agues 2019

26 July 2019

I wanted to expand my leadership skills and as such over the last 12 months I explored a range of options to do that. I examined locally based executive leadership opportunities as well as international ones. One place really caught my eye, Harvard Business School. In addition to the high quality learning they offered, as well as their reputation, they also offered a perfect fit for my eyesight and had a great team of staff dedicated to assisting students with disabilities. Harvard got the nod.

I was accepted into the July/August intake following my application in February.

The trip was going to be a daunting one, as I was travelling on my own. Canberra to Boston, transiting first through Sydney, then through Dallas. It was a long way!

Qantas was just fantastic. I identified as a passenger with a disability and the service and support from start to end was just perfect. They assisted me with boarding, finding gates and lounges during the journey and were always on hand during the flight to help me out.

I arrived safely in Boston and again was helped at the airport to locate a taxi and then my accommodation for the night.

After I arrived at my hotel, I popped out for a quick look around and some dinner. I found a great bar that served Nachos, so I enjoyed that before turning.

27 July 2019

Today was a free day. I deliberately came early so I could get over jet lag, Harvard enrolment and orientation was tomorrow. I was up early as I had pre-arranged a tour of Concorde, Lexington and Cambridge. Scoring my train ticket was a bit of a hassle, but I had staff help me and I made it to downtown Boston and located the departure point for the bus tour.

The tour got going precisely at 9.00am as our driver, George, welcomed us aboard. He introduced me as his co-driver, I had  great seat up the front. We started the tour by driving around Boston a little: he showed us the port, Boston common and a few other places, before hitting the highway.

A short time later we were in historic Lexington. This is where the War of Independence started. The bus stopped and we were given an hour to walk around and explore the area. I saw the Minute Man statue, the exact spot the first shot was fired that started the war.

In April 1775 British soldiers, called lobsterbacks because of their red coats, and minutemen—the colonists’ militia—exchanged gunfire at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Described as “the shot heard round the world,” it signaled the start of the American Revolution and led to the creation of a new nation.

See more here: https://www.ncpedia.org/history/usrevolution/reasons

We walked past a number of houses, known as witness houses. These were houses there at the time, 1775, that stand witness to the event that led to the revolutionary war and eventually the forging of a new nation. See more here: https://www.nps.gov/mima/planyourvisit/witness-houses.htm

It was a fascinating morning as we re-boarded the bus and drove further along the revolutionary track. We saw where Paul Revere was captured, where battles were fought, and a variety of outposts used by soldiers to hold down positions. We visited the Minuteman National park and Concorde River, where many battles were fought.

The loss of life and suffering certainly reminded me of a saying I saw in DC in 2010: Freedom is not free. These people were passionate about removing the hold of English rule, abolishing the notion of taxes without representation and forging a new nation built on its own principles.

The so called American Experiment brought hope to so many and over time peoples of the world flocked to the United States and helped create today’s USA. A melting pot of cultures, languages, ideals, supposedly based on the notion of freedom. But as Bruce Springsteen sings:

They died building the railroads, they worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re still dying now
The hands that built the country were always trying to keep out

Bruce Springsteen, American Land

Nationalism has now taken over and xenophobia rules the roost in a country lost in its own idealism.

When we returned to Boston, I took the opportunity to walk around, before heading back to my hotel. The city is beautiful, and the architecture fits in with this being one of the birthplaces of this nation.

Harvard: 28 July 2019 to 2 August 2019

Harvard was just out of this world. I said to a few people, I have been to the fountain of knowledge and I certainly drank a lot. I cannot speak highly enough of the learning experience.

Day 1: Life stories

I arrived on the afternoon of our first day, Sunday. Check in day. The staff greeted me with open arms and guided me to my room. After I settled in, they gave me a tour of my home area, an area I would share with study buddies for the next week. Then the tour broadened, including lecture halls and room and the dining and function halls. Later on, I got to tour the entire campus of the business school.

Class of 2019

Before I knew it though, we were into work. Our first lecture was at 4.00pm – Life Stories. The class was 176 strong, broken into 26 groups of 7/8. Our lecturer, Professor Scott Snook was on fire from the get-go. He launched into his first lecture on life stories and got us talking to our neighbours within five minutes. We were sharing intimate details with someone a world away whom we’d never met before. It was confronting. It was crazy. It was cathartic.

A few of us got to share our life story with the entire class. I listened at this stage. Taking in the environment, learning, understanding the hum of the room.

After the lecture we had dinner and then broke into our learning groups. Our group was seven strong: Me, another Aussie, two Americans, a South American, and Indian gentleman and an African. Four men, three woman. All aged 50 – 55. Harvard has done their homework. We immediately clicked as a group. We spoke long into the night about our life stories: challenging each other, asking questions, wanting to understand more about these people we’ve been thrown together with.

We shared heartfelt stories about difficult upbringings, isolation, success, overcoming obstacles (me), acceptance, love and everything in between. It was both daunting and refreshing. At around midnight we decided to call it a night, tomorrow, and everyday day, was an early start.

Day 2: Crucibles

Day two started with Professor Snook again in a great mood. He was effervescent in the way he greeted us and kicked off the class. Crucibles today. The things that tested you in your life, professionally or personally. He shared his story with us, then a few of us shared our stories. Then we go into the research, the learning.

My leadership group

So, you’ve had a tough time. What does that really mean. How did it shape you? How did you come away from it? Did it reform you in anyway? What would you do again give similar circumstances?

As part of the preparation for this class, and all classes, we had a number of readings to review, a textbook to read, and a workbook to complete. Some of that work was done prior to the course, and some would be done while here.

During class, wed review readings and case studies. Today’s case was on Apple and an executive that had her own crucible. It was fascinating reading. We then analysed it as Scott shared more and more detail, forcing us to test our thinking and our process of how to handle the situation.

We then broke into groups for more analysis. The reading, learning, talking, reviewing, writing, was non-stop. This was learning at light speed. And it was sticking. Wow.

In the afternoon class we discussed the concept of losing your way. This naturally comes after a crucible. The map of the course was starting to become clear to me. As we experience things in our life we learn/react to these scenarios, which in turn shape us as leaders. We then need to understand our reactions, learn from them, and build strategies to better handle them going forward.

The two classes today had me thinking a lot about my crucibles and how I lost my way in 2013. I talked to my learning group about, as we all did: we unpicked it, examined it from a variety of angles and played out a range of scenarios. It was fascinating stuff. Here were people I’d known for a day working with me on some very personal and complex management interactions. It was refreshing: new ideas, new perspective, different views. It all helped in better understanding the key ingredient, me! Often, we never undertake double loop learning, where you go back and reassess a particular issue. Better still, in this environment, I had six others, all senior executives in their own right, helping me re-analyse a difficult time in my life. It was fantastic.

Day 3: Self-awareness

Tuesday was a repeat of Monday, with different lectures of course. Today’s focus was on knowing yourself as a leader, with a big focus on self-awareness. The afternoon lecture was focused on difficult conversations. Again, we were challenged in class and the spotlight was on high as we worked with people sitting next to us.

Main entrance, Harvard

We completed follow up work in our learning groups.

In the evening we had a reception. The weather was magnificent as we gathered on the lawn outside of Tata Hall, our residence. We all mingled and chatted about the course so far and got to know each other a little better. I mingled with people form within and outside of my core group. I met people from Nike, IBM, Groupon, health care providers, government officials, accountants from billion dollar enterprises, lawyers, CEOs, CFOs and business owners. It was an eclectic mix of people from 21 countries. As the sun set, some went into town for some partying, me and my group went back to work. There would be time for partying later on, but for now we had some more work to do.

Day 4: Relationships

Today our focus was on finding our sweet spot and relationships.

As with every other day, I started today with a walk at around 6.00am. The grounds of Harvard Business School are just delightful. Buildings, hundreds of years old covered with the ever sprawling limbs of ivy as it spreads its tentacles, much like the Borg, trying to assimilate the stone and glass back to a more natural form.

Building with Ivy

My building, built in the last five years, a largely glass edifice funded by the Indian industrialist, Tata. Its sleek lines and gentle curves: curves that capture the sun in the morning, almost parabolic like creating a heat well. I stand in the line of the reflecting sun; it burns within seconds and I move on. 

I continue my walk around the grounds, a pyramid shaped building houses the engineering faculty, tennis courts, construction as the campus expands to meet the demands of a growing crop of students wanting to start their tertiary education at Harvard.

I finish my walk and enter the dining hall. The staff as always are ever present and ever helpful. My assistant today thinks I need a feed as she piles my plates with eggs, mushrooms, bacon and sausages. She adds a couple of muffins for later, executive students need sustenance she tells me. I sit and chat with other students, some from my course, others from another course.

After breakfast I head back to my room for an hour of reading.

First up this morning is finding our sweet spot. We review JetBlue’s CEO David Neeleman. Hoe he found his sweet spot after a crisis. We examine facets of finding your sweet spot: your strengths, your passion, your values. Again, it is both fascinating and intense as we work through the lecture and then split into our groups for more review, research and discussion.

The afternoon we are treated to a lecture from Tom J DeLong. Google him! What a fascinating person he is. Our focus was on pro social motivation and how best to develop and ensure relationship you have, personally and professionally, are effective, worthwhile, meaningful and that you remain present.

How are you present with someone your lunching with if every two minutes you glance at, pick up, your phone! It’s not that phones and technology are bad, but sometimes we forget who we are with and what’s more important. It’s another two hours that flies by as Tom keeps us interested and brings us full journey as he speaks from the heart.

That evening our group ventures into Harvard Square where we enjoy coffee, hot chocolate and discuss relationships and our course work in a delightful café.

Day 5: Empowerment

Today’s focus was empowerment and from the “I to we” concept and the start of work on finding our purpose as a leader.

Empowerment was a fascinating exercise in learning more about how to empower people and the fallacy associated with feedback, specifically performance feedback. To me annual performance reviews are a waste of time, and this lecture certainly solidified that value for me. They give the boss too much power and the report too little power. Feedback is about standing shoulder to shoulder with people who you have responsibility for and working with them to achieve a common set of goals. As a leader you have more capacity to remove barriers for them and to assist them achieve what they set out to achieve. IT is also about belief: belief in people whom you work with and being genuine about this belief, allowing them to try, improve, to fail, to find their way and support them along that journey.

Me @ Harvard

The morning session tied in nicely with the PM session, where we focused on the “I to we” concept. It was time to start thinking about how we transform what we’d learned into actions, statements, values, concepts that will guide us as we return to normal life.

It was heady work; buy in our learning group we spoke for hours and developed a host of things for each of us to take away and do.

In the end my purpose statement is: Unleash the wonder.

As a leader I want to develop people around me to reach their goals, their dream jobs, while at the same time keep the world a wonderous and immensely curious place.

Our group enjoyed a delicious Indian meal at the conclusion of the day and sat around until very late chatting, a little about our week at Harvard, but mostly getting to know each other on a more personal level. It was an enjoyable and fun night.

Day 6: Purpose

Today’s focus was empowerment and from the “I to we” concept and the start of work on finding our purpose as a leader.

Empowerment was a fascinating exercise in learning more about how to empower people and the fallacy associated with feedback, specifically performance feedback. To me annual performance reviews are a waste of time, and this lecture certainly solidified that value for me. They give the boss too much power and the report too little power. Feedback is about standing shoulder to shoulder with people who you have responsibility for and working with them to achieve a common set of goals. As a leader you have more capacity to remove barriers for them and to assist them achieve what they set out to achieve. IT is also about belief: belief in people whom you work with and being genuine about this belief, allowing them to try, improve, to fail, to find their way and support them along that journey.

Giri, Professor Snook and me

The morning session tied in nicely with the PM session, where we focused on the “I to we” concept. It was time to start thinking about how we transform what we’d learned into actions, statements, values, concepts that will guide us as we return to normal life.

It was heady work; buy in our learning group we spoke for hours and developed a host of things for each of us to take away and do.

In the end my purpose statement is: Unleash the wonder.

As a leader I want to develop people around me to reach their goals, their dream jobs, while at the same time keep the world a wonderous and immensely curious place.

Our group enjoyed a delicious Indian meal at the conclusion of the day and sat around until very late chatting, a little about our week at Harvard, but mostly getting to know each other on a more personal level. It was an enjoyable and fun night.

3 August 2019

After an exhausting yet exhilarating week at Harvard, I had a free day before flying home tomorrow. Today I took the opportunity to do another tour, but this time I stayed local and toured Boston. The tour drove around Boston, including circumnavigating Boston Common, touring up and down Commonwealth Avenue and a host of places in between. We visited the Bobby Orr (Ice hockey) statue at Portal Park. We then ventured across the bridge to Cambridge Square, where we viewed the oldest cemetery in America. Where most of the Lincoln family, except Abe of course, who is in DC, found their last resting place. We drove through Harvard Yard and Harvard Square. We then ventured back into Boston proper and toured Christopher Columbus Park and then the financial district before finishing the tour.

I then set out on foot for a while and walked around for about three hours. I stopped for some Shake Shack for dinner and walked until dark. When it got dark I headed back to my hotel.

4 August 2019

The journey home was just as good as the journey over. I was supported from the minute I arrived at check in, all the way back to Canberra. American Airlines and Qantas did a wonderful job. American were so good that I emailed their customer support team and congratulate the flight crew on their level of support of me.

I arrived home tired, but thankful for the experience. I made a lot of good contacts, friends for life we called ourselves on WhatsApp. I also made a couple of local contacts. The learning will help me every day in my life, both personally and professionally. 

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