15 April 2014

“In 20 years’ time, this will be the part of your MBA that you will still be talking about”

– Professor Kevyn Yong, Saint-Cyr Leadership Seminar

If you asked any of our soon-to-be graduating class of 2014 for their 3 most cherished MBA memories, you can almost guarantee that they would mention the leadership seminar at St Cyr. Every year, our entire MBA cohort (that is to say, the September, January and Part-time intakes) eagerly pile onto buses towards the elite Saint-Cyr Military Academy in Brittany, ready for 2 days of field-based team exercises to test their leadership abilities.

But while the word “seminar” may usually bring classrooms, clipboards and complicated theories to mind, it’s safe to say that this isn’t your standard lesson in leadership. Epitomizing the “learning by doing” philosophy that is at the very heart of the MBA program at HEC Paris, Saint-Cyr is a great opportunity for our students to work with and adapt their leadership style to their peers, receiving constructive feedback on their leadership from both fellow students and military leaders alike. Students are divided into ‘teams,’ supervised by a military mentor and they are each required to lead at least one field exercise.

The exercises themselves are as varied as they are exhausting; the first day consists of team-based exercises towards a common goal – rafts were built (and consequently sunk), bridges were built and planks of wood were used as walkways over imaginary swamps, acid pools and shark-infested waters. Not only did these exercises work to test leadership, but also the skills of delegation, foresight and preparation in working towards a set goal. While maybe not as physical as the other activities, the crisis center at the end of the day proved to be a mentally exhausting and incredibly rewarding exercise, as students were put under pressure as they had to cope and adapt to a set of scenarios with strict deadlines and ever-complicating constraints.

The second day, at the beautiful Fort de Penthièvre, sought to test our students’ ability to push themselves and continue in demanding – and sometimes frightening – circumstances. With zip lines, tightropes and climbing ropes, this day was no less team-based than the previous as the groups had to work together to encourage and calm their teammates as they scaled walls and walked across walkways 20-feet above the sea. The strong bonds between participants became abundantly clear, with some displays of teamwork and courage even bringing the staff close to tears!

Feats of determination aside, perhaps the most notable thing about the seminar was the clear change in our students over the course of only two days. While at first there was perhaps a tendency for the leader to rush in and immediately begin to call the shots in an attempt to assert their authority, later exercises saw the students take a step back and contemplate what they had to get done before doing it, leading to a marked increase in efficiency and confidence.

So, do we have some newborn leaders among our ranks, the future titans of business? Oh, definitely; there are no two ways about it. Providing the perfect chance to learn by doing in picturesque surroundings with expert support and peer encouragement, Saint-Cyr is a once in a lifetime experience. Not surprising it comes top of many of our students’ lists, then.

“It’s the confidence. If I can do all this when I am frightened, I feel like I can do anything. It’s like, what was I so afraid of?”

– Srinivas Kishore, Class of 2015

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