Leadership is letting light shine in through the constraints
“We are a special class, graduating at a special time in a special way,” said Britta Wyss Bisang, valedictorian. “But we’ll make this a building block to fulfill our dreams.”
Turbulent – yet hopeful – times were on Bisang’s mind as she delivered her moving address during the graduation of the IMD June 2020 class of Executive MBAs.
This first-ever IMD all-virtual graduation ceremony marked the closure of an important step in the EMBA graduates’ lives.
The graduates – who attended the ceremony via Zoom – filmed short clips of themselves to share their most memorable moment of their learning journey. These were then assembled into a video compilation highlighting their appreciation. They thanked family members, friends, colleagues and faculty who helped them with their studies and supported them in completing this major step in their lives.
Professors, including Stefan Michel – Dean of the EMBA program, Ben Bryant, Vanina Farber, Anand Narasimhan, Salvatore Cantale, Ina Toegel, Goutam Challagalla, Benoit Leleux, Shlomo Ben-Hur, Leif Sjöblom, Amit Joshi, Jim Pulcrano and Arnaud Chevallier also pre-recorded their congratulatory messages for the graduates, frequently including words of wisdom for the journey ahead as business leaders.
A life strategy
Professor Michel had some strategic advice for the class: “In the end, strategy is about answering three questions,” he said. “Firstly, what the heck is going on? You need to identify the biggest obstacle to success.”
He then explained that EMBAs would be faced with tough choices, and that their compromises would influence the results.
“How do you execute with orchestrated actions?” Professor Michel asked, hinting that preparation is an absolute must – especially for these EMBA graduates going into a post-COVID-19 world.
Professor Michel concluded with a reference to a book, Montauk, by Max Frisch, which featured a distinctive lighthouse. After making a trip to Montauk several years ago, Michel visited the lighthouse and remarked that it was a place of peace and security.
“You have the freedom to choose what you want to do next,” said Professor Michel. “On this special day and in every day coming, I hope each one of you has a lighthouse, where you can take a break from being on the receiving end of other people’s demands.”
Regarding demands, completing the EMBA is no easy task – the degree requires between 15 and 48 months of intensive study (while working full-time), a multitude of projects and assignments, and participation in three global Discovery Expeditions.
These Expeditions were often referred to as the highlight of participants’ learning journeys. Top memories shared included visits to local businesses in Kenya and start-up nation Israel, pitching to venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, working on social innovation projects in Peru and even Bollywood dancing in India.
A mindful journey
Professor Bryant invited graduates to channel self-reflection and take two things with them in their journey ahead.
“The idea of what you reflect on and how you become more mindful is important,” he said. “That includes looking at fears, anxieties and fantasies, in order to process them and see how they influence you.”
Professor Bryant explained that boundaries and constraints come from the inside and the outside and left the graduates with some positive advice for their future as leaders: “Leadership is using role and authority to let the light shine in through those constraints.”
Continuing the theme of mindfulness, Professor Narasimhan encouraged participants to close their eyes and bring to mind every individual in the class, while repeating these words: “May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease. Congratulations!”
A sense of achievement
Jean-François Manzoni, President of IMD and Nestlé Chaired Professor, heartily congratulated the EMBAs on their achievements. He commented on their innate talent and the potential that IMD has helped them to realize.
“You should feel a great sense of achievement because you are graduating from a very demanding program,” said Professor Manzoni. “This sense of achievement is a moment of pride that you will hopefully call upon in years to come, especially on days when you are doubting yourselves.”
In another spot-on cultural reference, Manzoni quoted the 1980’s cult classic film Starman: “You are at your best when things are at their toughest.” He then reminded the graduates that they should foster reliance and try not to foster negative views, but rather let these emotions go.
“It is what it is,” he added. “Once you accept reality, you can focus on how to deal with it.”
A new dream
Closing the virtual ceremony, valedictorian Bisang gave a speech infused with humor despite the gravity of the current state of the world.
“What the heck is going on, that has been the opening question of many classes,” she exclaimed. “We could not have predicted that we would have been on Zoom today, but there were also much simpler things we couldn’t predict either.”
She referenced the diversity and international flavor of her EMBA cohort as well as IMD faculty, commenting that most of the class had beautiful, thick accents. Assuring the graduates that the June 2020 cohort was not homogeneous, she said: “We come from different backgrounds but got to know each other. We got to recognize our complementarity.”
Channeling the style of a late-night comedy show, Bisang provided a top ten list of things learned while at IMD. Amongst them were: “To be interesting, be interested; and fitting of IMD’s commitment to furthering intensive knowledge, “You’ve got to go deep… and once you’re deep, go deeper.”
Relaxing the atmosphere, she joked, “I also learned that you don’t get any smarter after ten cups of free coffee and three chocolate bars.”
Bisang then took a serious and insightful turn, with a thought on how graduates’ plans may not look the same now as they did when beginning the EMBA program. She explained that some of these dreams may have changed radically, since the graduates themselves have changed.
Alluding to the interesting road ahead, Bisang concluded: “Our journey together is far from over.”