About my experience as PDE Analyst – IMD Business School, Lausanne

Therapy sessions help MBA: students learn leadership skill

A Swiss business school believes its Jungian approach has a positive impact on graduates


IMD’s dean of faculty and research Anand Narasimhan and Janet Hewetson, who runs the personal development programme at the business school © Dom Smaz/FT

Every Saturday, MBA students at Switzerlandʼs International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, have an hour-long one- on-one session with a psychotherapist.

There are no couches in the rooms used for therapy, but Janet Hewetson, who runs this personal development elective (PDE), makes the space less formal. She pushes the white table normally separating students and professors to one side. Instead, they sit face to face near a board on which they can draw — one of a number of techniques used to express feelings within the session.

“Life here is fast paced,” Ms Hewetson says. “The PDE is an opportunity for students to really pull out of the bubble and get some perspective to

relate to themselves and others. Itʼs an opportunity to switch rhythms from an outward-directed, linear, performance-focused perspective and get practice in slowing down, being reflective and checking in with themselves.”

Courses in leadership with practical support from mentors and career counsellors are now standard at business schools. But IMD has been offering the PDE programme for 20 years, long before most business schools realised the importance of “soft skills”.

And even in todayʼs environment, its offer of regular consultations with Jungian analysts trained at the CJ Jung Institute or the International School of Analytical Psychology Zurich, is still exceptional.

These sessions are very different from the rest of IMDʼs MBA programme. They probe personal and professional backgrounds and concerns through an initial written autobiography. The discussions are supported by a variety of techniques, from dream interpretation to word association, and use a range of therapeutic approaches. Students are encouraged to talk in complete confidence and not share their experiences with others.


Janet Hewetson talks to students about their dreams during her psychotherapy sessions with them © Dom Smaz/FT

Ms Hewetson points to a picture of an iceberg floating largely submerged on a dark blue sea, which she uses to explain the extent of experiences beyond the conscious mind. “Most students are not aware of the unconscious,” she says. “I talk about dreams and ask them about their priorities and how they would like to use our time. The psyche knows, and whatʼs important leads the way.”

When IMD started the PDE programme two decades ago, it was the idea of Jack Wood, a former US Airforce officer, who joined IMD to teach leadership. “The role of unconscious processes had become clear to me from graduate school and my military training,” he says. “Companies love competences but in some contexts your actions are a function of the system you are working in.”

IMDʼs leadership training at that time was provided by mountain guides whose approach was “follow me up the hill, the leader is the one at the front”; and by human resource managers who “ended up colluding unconsciously with participants”.

Mr Wood wanted leadership to be taught by “people with psychological insight, who could read the agenda on and under the table, and ask students about their feelings”. At the time, he was also studying at the Jung Institute, and came up with a plan for teaching the MBA students in a way that would suit both institutions. IMD would offer them 20 therapy sessions, conducted by psychoanalysts from the institute, who needed practical experience to complete their training.

He overcame IMDʼs initial concerns over the rationale and cost and designed a course which drew on the Jungian tradition as well as other schools of analysis. Participation was voluntary, but soon nearly all students were taking part and few dropped out.

Today, support for the programme, which is still optional, permeates the faculty. “We donʼt have this tradition in India — we werenʼt living in ‘Woody Allen landʼ”, says Anand Narasimhan, IMDʼs dean of faculty and research. “There was no self-examination: we were socialised into the idea of an uncomplicated and highly defended idea of the hard-working father and devoted mother. It was avoidance.”

Peter Yorke, vice-president and general manager at P&G Feminine Care, who graduated from IMD in 2002, says: “It forced me to think about the way I behave and look at others in a much more profound way than Iʼd thought about before. I realised we all have slightly different ways of doing things, that culture impacts leadership style and you have to take a step back at the start of an assignment to try to map out peopleʼs motivations and fears.”


He recently resigned from his longstanding employer because he did not want to raise his children in the Gulf. “The PDE had a very profound effect on work/life balance and has given me a really good compass to sort through the most important things in my career and


personal life,” he says.

Sean Meehan, dean of the MBA programme, says: “Students have better discussions about what to do next, resolution around dual careers with their spouse, and whether to take a great job in a non-sexy location. It prepares you for anything.”

He adds that IMDʼs small class size of 90 and proximity to the two Jungian institutes gives it “an opportunity to differentiate: we can offer it to 90. Where [at a larger business school] would you find the analysts for 600?”

Graduates also report that the programme enabled them to reflect more clearly on their management styles and behavioural tendencies. Gráinne Moss, chief executive of New Zealandʼs ministry for children, who was at IMD in 2002, says: “We might like to think we are amazing managers, but ultimately we all have our preconceived ideas and personal experiences. We need to understand what is pushing our buttons and to disaggregate what is the right thing for the customer, the client and the business versus for us. The PDE was incredibly helpful for that.”

IMDʼs course is not classic psychotherapy — it is limited in duration and the clients do not present with a perceived problem for treatment. But Ms Hewetson is positive about the benefits for the analysts as well as for the students and she sees the potential for broader applications.

“Perhaps in the future, we will find increasing roles [for analysts] in institutions,” she says.


Migratory Restlessness

Migratory restlessness: could be a life condition, a symptom, or even a metaphor that makes you dream a little. But is an instinct instead, that pushes birds to migrate twice a year going north in spring and back south in autumn.

This is at least what they tell us at the Migration Observatory in Ventotene, a small Italian island of the Pontine archipelago between Lazio and Campania, where migratory birds stop on the long journey, more than 30.000 km, they do twice a year.

To track the migration routes the researchers of the Observatory put small rings on the legs of the birds entangled in the big nets scattered all around the island, before freeing them. Migratory birds, they tell us, leave Africa in spring to go north to breed, and do the opposite trek in autumn to escape the rigors of winter; going back and forth they travel different routes, because the goal of the trip is different; going north the urge to breed pushes them to travel as soon as possible flying over the sea in a straight line, whereas going back south the route is a curve that can provide some stops to rest and refresh. The return trip lasts therefore a couple of months, but only ten days the forward trip; and if you think the Screaming Albatross is a marine bird that lives normally more than 60 years, during which travels at least 60.000 km a year, the whole count sounds a bit crazy.

The Observatory is also a reservoir of stories, interweaved with the flights.

What do you think is, in example, the weight of the Luì, a small passerine bird with green and yellow feathers? only 7/8 grams, but notwithstanding it can fly uninterruptedly for days without eating and drinking, losing most of its weight in the journey.

The fate of the Big Berta, on the other side, is moving and sad at the same time: very much alike a small albatross, the Berta lives in couple and brood over only one egg at a time, without ever leaving the nest for any reason. Male and female turn on brooding while the other searches for food, and if it doesn’t come back the partner lets itself die rather than abandon the brooding, and the entire family perishes.

Migratory restlessness, then.

I can’t really explain why, but these two words sound in some way familiar to me, with the sense of a destiny.

Why do birds migrate?

Suddenly, after these stories, the question becomes its opposite: how could they not do it?

Which makes the question even more fascinating, the reason of life itself, and gives a new light to our human migrations, that could be sustained by the life instinct instead of the fear of death.

We may ask ourselves, eventually, if the migratory restlessness affects only the birds, and if we shouldn’t rely more on our “migrant genes”, which could free us from those “spider webs in the brain” that, following Bruce Chatwin, sedentary life inevitably provokes.