Spotlight on IMBA's Leadership Training Course

Facilitated by: Alistair McArthur


What is leadership? “Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a process, not an outcome,” John Donahoe, president of eBay said. The purpose of Leadership is to mobilize people from bottom to up, to fulfill the organizational mission and vision. Without one’s life stories, training in authentic leadership may not reach its full potential. Facing tough challenges, the authentic leader cannot slightly deviate from the right track. The clear boundary and ethical values are the bottom lines of the authentic leader. The authentic leader cannot be an imposter, rationalizer, glory seeker, loner, and shooting star. The true leader must have great passion and use different leadership styles to inspire the organizational goals.

How to formulate authentic leadership in reality? The Leadership training series in June 2016 was taught by Alistair McArthur, an Australian national working as a professional trainer at Schouten China. He deeply impressed every student. From a pragmatic aspect, the three-part series was wonderfully designed by a combination of Alistair’s superb academic background, rich working experience in China and the learning requirements from IMBA students. Alistair has been living in China for over 17 years, therefore he understands China. Moreover, he is able to speak Chinese and can communicate with Chinese students effectively and clearly. All factors successfully contributed to the wonderful leadership series.

In the course of training, scenario learning was the foundation of the workshops. By this approach, students quickly learned and understood the key concepts and fundamental theories. For example, what is the difference between a working group and a team? Alistair instructed two students together to judge whether each statement belongs to a working group or a team. Through heated discussion, every member extended their knowledge of teams and working groups, while recalling past experiences to share with the class.

Interestingly, there was another significant scenario named Subarctic Survival Simulation. In a dynamic and complicated environment, it was a huge challenge for a group of people to escape dangerous and life-threatening situation. The groups were challenged to discuss strategy and whether they should stay in the existing place or transfer to another safe village nearby. As a coordinator, Alistair patiently observed every group and each person before he began providing us with an experience of leadership, conflict and team change. He had one or two members transfer from one group to another group. To some extent, the challenge for decisions became slower, but the simulation seriousness only continued to increase. Suddenly rules changed, groups had new members join again with new ideas and the decision making was being pressured. Due to the simulation’s environment changing, teams were forced to make quick decisions under pressure. Finally teams completed the survival exercise and debriefed to understand the team dynamics, who group leaders were and why, how teams felt about decision making and pressure situations. The entire group spoke up about their experience and shared their personal insights, learning about how they deal with the changes. Upon reflection, teams naturally progressed with those who had a stronger personality and those who were more comfortable observing in their teams. It was an insightful simulation for everyone as we provided feedback to peers and also received some honest eye-opening feedback about our own participation. This enabled us to reflect on our own styles and any changes we may like to make about ourselves.

In the fierce and cut-throat competition, change is inevitable, and the process is optional. How can we as leaders participate in people and change management? Basically, there are two principles: on one hand, an organization can’t change until it’s ready for change; on the other hand, an organization cannot change if people do not change. An organization or a team can only change to the extent that all of the people embrace change. Time, quality, and cost are the three realistic constraints. However, some people might be completely against change. Kotter’s eight steps change model is useful. The eight steps are to increase urgency, build the guiding team, get the vision right, communicate for buy-in, empower action, create short-term wins, not let up and make change stick. It is vitally important for an assertive leader to provide appropriate feedback to his/her team members and vice versa. According to the Johari window theory and risks of giving feedback, the I-I-You Method is beneficial to solve conflicts between management staff and employees. As groups we were then tasked with building a change management strategy covering core components such as clear reasons for change, communication strategies and understanding to prevent productivity dips during change.

Recruiting employees with high-level Intelligence Quotient (IQ thereafter) is critical. It is more critical for a leader with high Emotional Intelligence (EI thereafter) to manage those employees and manage themselves. There is an important theory named Goleman’s Five Elements of EI, including Self-Regulation/Management, Social Skills, Empathy, Motivation/Passion and Self-awareness. It is very helpful to put Goleman’s Framework For Emotional Competence into practice. In order to understand the tough theories and principles, Alistair taught us how to be an EI leader by extending some vivid activities. Participants worked through some of the major competencies and ranked their own perceptions. In groups we used our knowledge of providing constructive feedback to understand better why people had ranked themselves the way they did. The activity provided us all with personal development goals to enhance our EI. A following activity was to kick the shuttlecock to include everyone in the group in the shortest time. The training was arduous and timing-costing. The more important factor was to achieve the victory over other rivals in an intelligent approach, identify resources, and importantly, not limit ourselves to the perceived rules. The third activity was to elevate and put down a plastic pole on the ground with eyes open and eyes shut. The group eventually managed to communicate clearly and achieve the goal. However, we were then provided an emotion, such as aggressive or happy, to show during the activity. With all of us acting different emotions we soon discovered we were too focused on our own emotions and neglecting the goal of the activity. This showed us that as leaders we must be able to control not only our own emotions but have the intelligence to manage others’ emotions, thus having EI. Another activity included a focus on non-verbal communication and assertive leadership by rearrange a muddled story of pictures. Finally, as a whole group activity, we had to decipher a code to escape the room. We had to solve a problem as a group and then delegate roles to everyone in the class. We were provided 2 opportunities and the second opportunity whereby we first new the rules and had a better understanding of delegated roles, clearly showed us the importance of preparing teams and delegating effectively. In all the simulation games, the leader with high-level IQ and EI played an important role.

According to the feedback from students, the leadership training course facilitated by Alistair provided an interesting environment to learn and showed the benefits to nurture our leadership which is an integral professional competence. The purpose of the MBA project is to coach students to be leaders with systematic thinking, reflective mindsets, positive values and clear boundaries. The most important thing for the preeminent leaders is to ensure we are able to have the confidence to be assertive, reinforce our own and organizational values while enforce the set boundaries.

Narayana Murthy, the founder and former CEO of Infosys, pointed out, “Leaders with principle are less likely to get bullied or pushed around because they can draw clear lines in the sand. The softest pillow is a clear conscience.”

Jack Cai

IMBA Candidate '17