Exec Ed for Introverts

A customized executive professional development program featuring nontraditional learning experiences that require participants to explore emotion, demonstrate creativity, and navigate uncertainty.
Many executives have succeeded by relying on their intellect, but they could better their performance by finding the right balance between intellect and emotion, rationality and creativity, says Peter Shepherd of the London Business School (LBS) in the U.K.

That belief inspired “Expanding Horizons,” a customized executive professional development program launched in December 2013 and offered through LBS to senior partners at the global consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Participants first complete a ten-day module in London, where A.T. Kearney has a large presence; a few months later, they complete a six-day module in Mumbai, India.

“London is an established market where the partners feel comfortable,” says Shepherd, the program’s director and co-creator. “India is a much less familiar emerging market, where partners must engage differently with each experiential activity.” He adds that, while they are in India, participants are pushed to strengthen relationships with those around them and think more deeply about their sense of purpose.

So far, 150 A.T. Kearney execs have completed the program, and the company plans to enroll the rest of its 325 partners.

Many of these individuals are engineers, scientists, and other “highly skilled introverts” who otherwise might downplay the emotional component of interacting with their clients, says Shepherd. That’s why the program features nontraditional learning experiences that require participants to explore emotion, demonstrate creativity, and navigate uncertainty. For example, in “Equine Affinity,” participants work with equine psychotherapists to explore parallels between interacting with horses and understanding people. In “Quatuor Annesci String Quartet,” they learn what it’s like to conduct an orchestra in order to better coach teams and manage groups.

Participants also work with a vocal coach to develop stronger personal presences, with an ad agency executive to create stronger personal brands, with a percussionist to explore the theme of impact, and with a storyteller to learn to write the scripts for their own lives.

Participants are not given a timetable for activities, which helps them increase their “comfort with ambiguity,” Shepherd says. By encountering experiences in real time, participants are unable to anticipate their reactions or judge anything in advance.

Expanding Horizons started out as an experiment, but Shepherd says that participants are describing themselves as having more confidence, better quality relationships, and more candor with their colleagues. “This type of program is very welcome at their current stage of life,” he says. “Most are already established in their careers with additional outside responsibilities, so it’s very important to connect their work to a deeper sense of purpose.”