Posts Tagged ‘Henley Business School’

Henley building in Jo'burgIt’s now  the end of a very busy Henley MBA “Starter Season”, a hectic period of a couple of months repeated twice a year, where the school inducts new members to the programme in their respective intakes around the world. Starters are different to other workshops because people come with all their hopes and uncertainties about what to expect and a certain kind of ignorance not just of whether they have chosen the right school, or will like and respect their classmates, but also whether they are “up to the task”. The organisation has to be slick, the sessions have to be the right mix of challenge and adventure mixed with support and reassurance. These are not green-behind-the-ears whippersnappers, either; most have had considerable management experience and have attended as many training and development events as they have had hot, expense-account dinners.

Many of these events are in the UK because with Henley a sense of place is part of the sense of purpose and it is good to inculcate and communicate the “Henley Experience” (how tricky it is to define that!), but we also like to bottle that experience for parts of the world that make coming to the UK too impractical. That’s what brings me, willingly, back to South Africa.

Over the last three weeks or so, the admin teams in Johannesburg and at Henley, alongside myself and Marc Day as tutors, have successfully (we trust!) inducted 200 new managers onto the Henley MBA in two intakes (with a third due to start here in late June, which really says something about being in the right place at the right time with the right product and the right “shout” in marketing and PR). Marc and I divided each group of 100 in two smaller groups and worked in parallel over the three days of each Starter. It’s a very efficient way of working from the point of view of the participants as it provides more time for getting to know each other and is easier to facilitate discussions, but it doesn’t half take it out of the tutor and their voice! For that reason, I think both Marc and I were more than happy to accept an unsolicited invitation from our hotel to attend a Macallan whisky tasting session in the bar one evening (see pic).

Arms twisted, Marc and I agree to taste some single malts...

Arms twisted, Marc and I agree to taste some single malts…

Marc is a real expert in Scotch whiskies, and so was able to verify afterwards that the (rather attractive) Macallan brand ambassador really knew her stuff during her information-packed presentation of the three products we got to try.

Back to the main point, which is, I suppose, an expression of amazement that we pulled it off! Since the beginning of the year, nearly 350 people have started with the MBA and there is another starter season in September/October that will probably take that number to nearly 600. The trick, though, is not to worry that this is too many or too few, but to see how each individual can feel personally engaged and enthused about putting the time and effort into themselves over the coming years, as well as setting up an emotional bond with their School that will result in them feeling they owe something to the world around them to give back later on.


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This post details the first of my Six Principles of Personal Development that every manager should know, which is:

1. Acknowledge things, without judgement, as they are

You are exactly where you have chosen to be.

Through many years of working with (pretty experienced) managers, mostly on MBA programmes, I am convinced that this is the most fundamental PD principle of them all. My conviction stems from the observation of  both how (for all sorts of good reasons) un-self-aware many mid-career managers are, and of how radical the “ah-ha” can be when they wake up.

This principle asks just that you acknowledge the truth of your own present, of where you are, of who you are and how you are. That’s all, no opinions on whether or how you construe the past and the future. And what’s more to do all of this with a challenging and genuinely curious frame of mind, without prejudice or censorship.

Some people are driven to Management Education and development by their sense of being “trapped” in their past. Others are obsessed by something in the future that, necessarily, must always appear just beyond their reach. They seem always to be in pursuit of something they don’t have. The symptons of this malaise are beautifully and poetically illustrated in the following Tom Waits lyrics, from his song ‘Foreign Affair’ :

‘most vagabonds I knowed don’t ever want to find the culprit
that remains the object of their long relentless quest
the obsession’s in the chasing and not the apprehending
the pursuit you see and never the arrest’

Where are our heads? At first glance, a lot of us appear to prefer to occupy a prison of the past or an artist’s impression of the future. Closer inspection (or introspection, in fact) should reveal that both of  these concepts are existent only and entirely in the present. The past is no more a cause of the present than the ship’s wake (to borrow an analogy used by Alan Watts) is the cause of the present position of the ship. That’s not to say that the idea of the past does not have use. Without it, “here” would have no meaning’, we would not know that there is such as thing as the present. Nor would we be able to construct the idea of a future. Our sense of agency, of acting in the world, is reliant on the coming together of these three ideas?

Acknowledging ‘what is’ is a principle that runs through all other, or further, aspects of PD, and represents a fundamental commitment to mindfulness of practice. Notice, suspend judgement and… let go.

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I have been turning my mind lately to what could, or should, be central and unifying concepts that represent what we mean by Personal Development here at Henley.

Earlier posts on this blog have rehearsed some antecedents, but inspired by a seemingly inexhaustable parade of “lists” that form a daily digest of reading in popular management magazines and blogs, I really wanted to have a go at a compilation of my own. People do seem to feel at home with lists, and who can blame them? (it’s probably just a matter of time before there’s an an article published with the title “the five benefits for leaders of making lists”…)

So over the coming weeks, dear reader, look out for six intermittently posted attempts to give food for thought for your own management development and management practice.

First, this post names all six principles. I take these to be pre-requisites for Personal Development, though all of them are also activities for practice. There will be other activities, particularly related to career development, work-life balance and academic achievement, that complement these six things, but philosophically they are my starting points.

1. Acknowledge things, without judgement, as they are

2. Seek out, and pay attention to ‘difference’

3. Engage in dialogue

4. Practice awareness of the whole, not the parts

5. Align personal purpose and the purpose of business

6.  Use the logic of metaphor

The first on this list will form the topic in the next posting.

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Evening light over the Thames at Greenlands

Light and dark

Winter morning at Greenlands

Sometimes this place just knocks you out…

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It’s been a strange start to the year. On the 4th, after two weeks away, it felt as though everyone was back and raring to go – then at the end of that week the snow and ice arrived. For the first time since I’ve been here, we were forced to postpone workshops, which have now been rescheduled. The past few nights have seen temperatures in rural districts around Henley drop to minus 17, and life has skidded to a halt somewhat.

Everyone’s hoping that next week will provide some respite, though the forecast is hardly encouraging. There were some interesting features on the BBC about the difference between “weather” and “climate”, which we may need to remember when other consequences of our economy manifest themselves in other places and times this year.

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Yesterday I attempted, and failed, to get to the Reading Whiteknights campus without getting lost. My third attempt to do it seamlessly. I am, however, picking up a fairly well mapped knowledge of the suburban side streets of east Reading. The reason for going over there was to join colleagues from Greenlands (we must nowadays avoid saying “from Henley” in the context of meetings within the Business School) in a research awayday – our first stab at bringing the two faculties together to discuss a research agenda.

It’s not going to be all plain sailing.

If Henley (here I use it to mean the College) was known at all for research, it was best known for either the type of faculty-led enquiry that is likely to lead to practitioner adoption, or the type of practitioner-led problem that required more rigour in investigation than most companies are prepared or equipped to do. This is sometimes referred to as “Mode 2” research.

Reading was, and is, very well known in the circles that know these things for its “Mode 1” research agenda, which is driven by successful applications for grant monies from public bodies and measured by the amount which reaches publication in the 4 and 5-star refereed journals in the area of the research being carried out.

So which one rules? Or do you do both? These questions are not at all trivial because a lot of other things affect and are affected the direction you take. If publication is key for institutional and personal position and reputation, then those undertaking that type of research need the luxury of time and training to focus on it. If practical application and excellence in delivery are important, then other things follow.

The College faculty were most recently drawn up around five schools of thought leadership. These, of course, are not to be abandoned – they feed a lot into the MBA programme, for example, but they do need to adapt to whatever strategy for research that the new Business School decides to follow.

The Merger, which in many ways was always a good match, will find that the Devil is very much in the detail. It is actually quite exciting to be part of such a discussion. For many of the Greenlands faculty, the door to scholarship beckons, while for the Whiteknights faculty, there is a chance to bring their agendas face-to-face with end-user organisations and managers. Let’s hope that both ends of the research continuum continue to be valued.

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