My four leadership hacks as Harvard Business School get personal

As many of my classmates have already pointed out (here, here, here and here), our experiences at Harvard Business School during the second half of Professional Leadership Development program focused less on technical knowledge and more on the understanding of our personal attributes.

1. Lockpicking: Are you teaching criminals?

A major change in my attitude was to get out there and teach my fellow executives. What is something simple that I could uniquely offer? Lockpicking. I taught lockpicking with TOOOL for 3 years at DEFCON and have enough training tools that can fit into one of Emily’s old Clinique bags (people are less likely to walk off with an orange makeup bag). Everyone picked at least one lock with Nofi being a particular all-star that opened all the locks I had to offer.

Overall, lockpicking was a huge hit. I was able to host 3 different sessions and 40+ classmates learned something brand new. However, when posting on social media questions about teaching “criminality” arose. This seems bizarre since our lectures involve several in-depth discussions about fraud orders of magnitude above what anyone would ever see from home burglary. I think the critics miss how the takeaway for the students dovetails nicely with our studies. Locks provide a simple tangible process, which is much less abstract than financial fraud, which can be subverted to do something that wasn’t originally intended.

Another benefit was that after our short sessions and I was suddenly inundated by more complex security discussions. Topics were varied including advice for which security vendors to consider, the importance of password management, basic cyber hygiene, and even in one case advice on how to fight a phishing campaign. Without deciding to be a teacher on small things I wouldn’t have been able to drive a conversation on the tougher stuff.

2. Acting with the Ariel group

I never thought I would be taking an acting class. I was in small plays in High School but I never really felt it as a calling. However, on Saturday we all were sitting around being put on the spot for displaying emotions in improvisational scenarios and yelling “hah” at each other. I even told a story about my make-believe cat grooming salon. Most of it reminded me more when I sang in the Navy but we also learned an important framework for telling stories.

I don’t like telling stories and having something both relevant and impactful is tough. A framework was provided to keep things short, maybe ~2 minutes, and telling something visually interesting was a very good exercise. However, I didn’t really buy into it until I heard Noah from my live in group tell his childhood story. It was amazing and left us with goose bumps. As a Quaker, he spoke of fire, fear, and rebirth making me want to jump up and do something, anything, to help him out. His very personal story convinced me of the power of storytelling. Now I am looking at compiling a short set of stories to keep for leadership challenges.

3. Running a case study at AIG: Tunneling my inner Tushman

A very powerful thing we do at AIG is teach what we have learned from our professional development training. There are two benefits, obviously, our team can benefit from the information of an event. More importantly, the attendee is able to summarize what they have learned which galvanizes and better retains that information. So for my training, I purchased a few HBS cases, ordered pizza, and sat 20 people down in a room to go over a case.

It went amazingly well! Our diverse group argued and had healthy debates about the situation as I moderated frantically trying to keep up. I remembered the way the HBS professors would give equal time to both sides, raise pointed questions, and stop people from dominating the conversation. I didn’t even need to cold call anyone! There was always an opinion out there. By mimicking the behaviors of the professors I might not have been able to give a true experience but it got lots of people interested in taking HBS classes.

4. All the sports you could muster

At 3 am I woke up to watch a Rugby match of the AIG All-Blacks playing the Lions. I’m not really good at team sports. When I played soccer I would play with the grass and stare at the planes landing more than the ball. So waking up at 3 am to watch what my roommate Paul said was “a huge match that only happens once every 7 years” I wasn’t that excited but I knew he was I sent a message out to the 140 cohorts inviting us to join, set my alarm and went to bed.

When I woke up at 3 am the lights in the living space didn’t automatically turn on. Even the building knew that it was too early for anyone sane to be still up. Nobody else showed up, but Paul and I were there sitting in the dark, eating potato chips, and going over the finer points of rugby. While I was exhausted the next day, it was extremely fun to see how the match played out and see the AIG All-Blacks pull a huge win.

There was also a baseball game where we watched the Boston Red Socks and suddenly our roles were reversed. I was the sporting expeert and knew tons more about the game than many of our international cohorts. I spent time discussing how strikes, outs, and innings worked to people.

So why were sports important to my studies? I feel it goes back to how important it is to be willing to step into the roles of both a teacher and be a student in groups. Learning something from someone, even something very simple builds comradery, and trust. When a more complex topic comes up we have the tools and relationship to handle new challenges. Sports offered an easily useable stepping stone to deeper conversations.

So here about a month after I left Harvard I have been thinking more about my roles as a teacher, actor, and sports aficionado. Its been very bizarre and almost a completely different experience than the first segment at HBS.I find myself very appreciative to Harvard Business School for designing a program I never knew I needed and very curious on how the next module will transform me.