When Vice President of Programs Sammye Pokryfki attended a leadership course at Harvard's Kennedy School, she expected lectures from renowned scholars, top-notch books and articles, and lively discussions. Still, she wasn't expecting what turned out to be the best part of it all. Read about it in this week's post.

harvardOne of the many benefits of working at Rasmuson Foundation is that staff members have the opportunity to participate in personal professional development activities. Earlier this month, I attended a week-long Executive Education course at Harvard with the unwieldy title “Leadership in the 21st Century: Chaos, Conflict, and Courage.”  As I expected, the faculty was impressively credentialed, the curriculum included lectures from renowned scholars, books and journal articles were filled with the latest research, and lively discussions challenged my thinking. What I didn’t expect was to meet 66 fellow students – half of them from 19 other countries – all seeking insights on the notion of leading with courage and authenticity. We learned together and we learned from each other. Ultimately, we found we had more in common than any of us expected.

The course was an immersive experience. I shared a dorm-style apartment with a classmate and we ate together as a group cafeteria-style. All instruction took place in the John F. Kennedy School of Government where we spent about 10 hours in class each day. In short, we lived with our classmates, got to know them, shared details about our families, our work and our communities. The distance between the Kennedy School and my apartment was a half mile and I was grateful for the walks twice a day (even when it snowed 10 inches New England style). My daily treks woke me up in the morning and at the end of the long day, provided a few minutes alone to sort my thoughts. I had plenty of sorting to do – the class gave me a lot to think about.

A vital part of the Executive Education approach to learning is the case study method pioneered at Harvard.  Students are asked to outline a case based on a real-life situation, share it with the group, and allow other participants to think through problem-solving methods and possible solutions. We were encouraged by the faculty and our peers to re-think leadership as an adaptive activity rather than a position of authority, and we talked about “staying alive” amid the dangers of leadership. Some of this information was new to me and some was a validation of what I already knew to be true.

Our class is now linked through social media and one of my classmates sent a message to everyone in which he reflected on the learning experience we shared. He quoted Will Rogers: “A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, the other by association with smarter people.” I knew I would learn a lot at the Harvard course. But the breadth, the depth and the people I learned from – that was way more than I expected.

More information about the Harvard Executive Education program and a list of course offerings can be found online.