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Alumni Stories · Leadership - General Management - Mindfulness

Gaining a deep understanding of yourself to become an inspiring leader

Attending the Advanced High Performance Leadership (AHPL) program has given the CEO of a Belgian private equity firm a deep understanding of himself, which he says is vital if you are to inspire others as a leader.
January 2019

In his spare time, Jean-François Vryens likes to hike in the mountains. For over a decade the CEO of Indufin has traveled to iconic ranges like the Himalayas to walk, climb and get away from his busy daily life, as well as work on his self-development. “I discovered that when you are alone in the middle of nowhere, you learn a lot about yourself and it opens your eyes,” he says.

But attending IMD’s HPL and AHPL programs took Jean-François to new heights and instilled in him a realization that knowing yourself is vital if you are to be a good leader.

“Sometimes we don’t see ourselves exactly as we are and the programs taught me that if you want to be in a well balanced state in your life, there is first an obligation to know yourself extremely well,” he explains.

“HPL provides you with the toolbox to know yourself better, then with AHPL you go even deeper into self-discovery using those tools. That’s why, as soon as I finished HPL, I immediately signed up for the advanced course.”

After completing AHPL, the executive says he changed many facets of his life, surrounding himself with positive people, removing negative influences and self-imposed constraints – he even got married, aged 45. “The program helps you to better control your emotions, and to be more pragmatic. It enabled me to create a new life and brought me to a new level of happiness,” he says.

AHPL made him realize he had lived his life in survival mode up to that point and he had created a negativity around him that provided neither confidence nor inspiration for people in his private or work life. AHPL helped him rid himself of this negativity.

“Sometimes you are your own hostage and if you are blocked with a burden on your back made up of problems, constraints and negative thinking, it’s extremely difficult to become an inspiring leader, to create empathy during meetings or manage different projects. For me, AHPL brought me a lot because it allowed me to rid myself many of these things.”

Jean-François says the program enabled him and his fellow participants to take themselves out of their comfort zones. They first had the opportunity to be vulnerable by talking about their lives, strengths, weaknesses and challenges before receiving feedback from the coach and fellow participants. “The people around the table are there for the same reasons as you and they are also playing the game, so everybody has to open up in front of others.”

In the same way that climbing Everest requires a solid base camp with team members supporting you with equipment and food, a ‘secure base’ in every-day life is also vital to self-development, and this was something Jean-François learned on the program. This secure base comprises of people who are important in your life such as friends, family, mentors, doctors or colleagues.

“I tried to work on myself to identify who are the secure bases in my life and this was extremely positive.” He adds that this has also made him more positive at work but ruthless when it comes to dealing with negative influences. “I am extremely focused on destroying negative situations like people playing bad games, and it has become a kind of obsession not to succumb to constraints.”

Jean François has come back to IMD on numerous occasions, where he has attended a program roughly every two years since 2006. He still goes on yearly two-week high mountain hikes with a guide to remote places around the world.

But now, when he goes on his expeditions, he takes with him summary notes from HPL and AHPL, which he keeps on his phone and sometimes reads while on a mountain or in the airplane.

“IMD has become my life toolbox and I think AHPL is a course that you can do three or four times in your life, depending on your evolution and on your challenges. It’s like a never-ending story.”

Find out more about HPL and AHPL