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Authentic Leadership in India with Kellogg-WHU

EMBA students explore servant leadership values

What does it mean to be a “high impact, low ego” leader? Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA students visited India to discover the true meaning of authenticity and humility as part of a new course developed by WHU professors earlier this year. This new course at Kellogg-WHU takes a deeper and more internal look at what it means to be a leader, going beyond traditional Executive MBA courses which focus on transformational leadership and being a role model. The goal is to develop a more ethical and humble generation of leaders, who are better equipped to face challenges and disruptions ahead.

“I started this program to grow as a leader,” says Elke Nitz, Head of the EU Project Delivery Office at Amazon. “When I heard about the focus of this field trip on servant leadership, it was a no-brainer for me. My expectations were surpassed; I could never have imagined that situational context would play a huge part in the learning journey, but every stop of our trip in India served a purpose in our personal development.”

The field trip, developed by WHU professors Yuval Kalish and Juergen Weigand, challenged the students to rethink their identities as leaders and individuals to better understand their governing values. It is an experiential course based on more contemporary leadership theories around principles, authenticity, and level-5 leadership.

“My expectations of the trip quickly shifted from an academic perspective to a more personal and human-centered understanding of India,” says EMBA student Daniel Zakowski, CFO, and investor at Cusp Capital. “The cultural immersion, the interactions with locals, and first-hand experience of their resilience and spirit; it shaped a deeper, more nuanced comprehension of the country’s socio-economic reality.”

Visiting a slum in Mumbai, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and a traditional farm, students were also treated to an audience with the Dalai Lama. “Assisting in the kitchen of the Golden Temple was surprisingly emotional for me,” says Daniel. “We were passing through rows of people waiting for their meal, and I had a basket of naan bread to hand out. Connecting with people face-to-face in close proximity was a profoundly human and humbling experience.”

Participants also experienced a flipped classroom style where they led their peers through exercises, putting into practice contemporary leadership theories such as humility and gratitude. The purpose of such an exercise is to help them learn to be process facilitators while learning and practicing new leadership techniques. Throughout the weeklong program, they received personalized assessments and feedback along with structured reflections.  

“A deep understanding of your life is critical for uncovering your values and becoming more authentic, which enhances credibility and performance,” explains Professor Yuval Kalish. “The last three days were devoted to an inner journey through which participants made sense of their lives through life-changing events to understand how their personal stories influence who they are today and how they lead.”

“This field trip was a transformative journey that goes beyond traditional business learning,” sums up Elke. “It’s an immersive experience that challenges your perceptions, expands your cultural understanding, and profoundly shapes your leadership style. It’s not just about India’s business landscape it also explores social dynamics, cultural richness, and human resilience. It’s truly a unique element of the EMBA program.”

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