This post is a reflection on the “EMBA Achieving Your Potential Weekend” held after exams at the end of the first semester. The weekend is held in a conference venue outside London and is attended by the whole cohort, one week after the first round of exams. It is an intense 48 hours and proved to be a real turning point in the first year…
When they first told me we’d be going away for the weekend after exams I wasn’t sure what to make of it. After five months of slogging through the first six modules and a week of exams, the prospect of decamping to Buckinghamshire to reflect on my career wasn’t the most attractive. To make matters worse, the weekend fell on Valentine’s Day, which meant partners alone at home after what had been a pretty tough few months.
The launch on Friday night was well received, an icebreaker which worked well to get us all in the mood, but still left a few skeptical faces around the room wondering what it was all for. I think at this point we were still completely unaware as to where the weekend would take us. You can imagine how Friday night ended with 44 EMBAs away from all their responsibilities with their cards behind the bar; I won’t go into it.
Saturday morning started early and we got straight into groups of around eight, meeting with our coaches for the weekend. The coaches are typically behavioural psychologists or professional coaches and are a mix of ages and backgrounds. The groups are structured in a clever way, with a blend of your old mentor group and new. This marks an important point in the MBA because you’ve been with the same six people for the first semester and grown pretty attached to them, so to set out into the new semester with new faces seems like a big deal. EMBAs are as much about the cohort as they are the subject matter and it’s this sort of interaction that really helps you to learn from each other.
The Saturday session is split into two parts; learning the basics of coaching which gives you the techniques you need to get through the rest of the weekend, and analysing your own report results, based on a ‘Happiness at Work’ questionnaire filled out the week before. The questionnaire doesn’t work for everyone but for me it really hit home, asking some tough questions. Do I honestly enjoy my job? Am I good at it, or might I be better at something totally different? Asking these questions and giving yourself an honest answer sets you up for Sunday, which is something entirely different.
The premise of the Sunday session is that if you find your energy at work, if you can recognise the moments when you have flow and build on those, ultimately you will be happier. For some people this is about extrinsic rewards but the nature of the EMBA is that most people have accelerated in their careers to a point where money doesn’t cut it any more – people are looking for something deeper. What you’re looking for is not a job or even just a career; it’s a calling, something which helps you to find your life purpose and work towards fulfilling it. I can’t honestly say that one person had their life purpose defined but we certainly left knowing more about what it might be.
The really tough part of the weekend is halfway through Sunday morning. Tired and under-prepared you present your predicament to your peers. Where are you? What do you want from your life, from work? This is fairly routine but the tough part is turning around and hearing the rest of the group discussing your case. For some reason having your back to the room makes the rest of the team talk freely and openly about where they think you should be going. Of course everyone is supportive but it really hammered home the whole reason most people are doing the EMBA in the first place – to learn more about what they are really capable of.
By the time the exercises finish on Sunday afternoon everyone is completely exhausted, physically and emotionally. For me the weekend served as a wakeup call, a reminder that if you want something more from life then you need to go out and make it happen. Great careers, happy relationships and a perfect home life don’t just materialise, it takes planning and it takes hard work. You have to know yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses – you have to understand what you really want.
“The modules give you a dartboard to throw something at but these weekends are the flight on the dart which helps you to land where you want to be”
Putting this weekend in the context of the MBA, it’s this sort of learning which helps you to make the decisions you need to make about what to do after graduation. The modules you study are useful but you’re not learning finance, you’re not learning accounting or strategy; you’re learning about yourself and finding out what you really like to do. The modules give you a dartboard to throw something at but these weekends are the flight on the dart which helps you to land where you want to be. Cass definitely knows how to get this right and I left the venue knowing a little more about myself, a lot more about the cohort and a whole lot more about where I want to be.