Leading oneself, leading successful programmes

Jordi Diaz, Associate dean at EADA Business School and the Director of the EFMD Executive Academy, has been interviewed by Kate Tattersfield from FULL FABRIC, a software solution helping universities deliver a world-class experience across the whole student journey. Learn more about the Executive Academy and Jordi’s role as a director.

Hi Jordi! Firstly, why did you decide to become Director of the Executive Academy?

After many years of collaborating with EFMD in several ventures (including accreditations), and participating in some of their boards and conferences, I was offered the opportunity to lead this new initiative within their larger professional development umbrella.

Higher education is a very open and cooperative industry, in my opinion. That’s why I accepted the role – I see it as an opportunity to give to the industry but also to get back, to learn about my own practice and to gain new perspectives.

The Executive Academy started in 2017 and every programme provides me with a unique opportunity to get to know senior colleagues from the industry who come to stop, re-energise and really think about their personal and professional careers.

“On the first day we don’t even talk about the industry, our teams or our institutions; we focus on ourselves.”

How would you describe the Executive Academy?

The Executive Academy is a place to think about the future; it’s not intended to help you to do better today, but to set a plan for what you want to do tomorrow.

We help you to formulate actionable objectives and through reflection, also help you clarify what you need to do to really engage with the future and the opportunities and challenges it holds for you and your institution.

We interview our candidates, in part to ensure they understand what the Executive Academy is for and who it’s for. We occasionally refer candidates to other programmes because they are looking for something more tactical and operational.

Our programme is very much about personal leadership and development. One of the greatest benefits is that you’re surrounded by peers from the industry who have a similar level of responsibility as you – and that’s critical.

What challenges do participants tend to struggle with?

Challenges around career development. Some of the participants are in a place where they’ve been offered a new responsibility and with it comes a bigger leadership challenge. The Academy helps people better understand themselves.

Each participant completes a 360° evaluation. The aim is to rethink and develop the way you lead yourself, lead others and ultimately, lead your programme and institution. It’s a three-step journey.

The Executive Academy also teaches professionals how to manage stress better through the neuroscience-based model, Brain Balance. How does this work?

We start with Brain Balance. On the first day, we don’t even talk about the industry, our teams or our institutions; we focus on ourselves. It’s fascinating to see how little those of us in the higher education leadership stop, pause, think and reflect.

We say the first day is a gift to yourself. We aim to help people understand that Brain Balance is all about how we balance or personal time with our professional time, how well we manage our sleep, our eating and exercise habits and our chill time.

We can better maintain neuroplasticity if for example we sleep more and achieve the right Brain Balance.

“It’s fascinating to see how little those of us in the higher education leadership stop, pause, think and reflect.”

Many participants say that our programme has prompted them to revisit their personal life and made them realise they’ve been sacrificing too much, so much so that it’s actually had a negative effect on their professional performance.

We don’t explore managing others or talk about the industry until we’ve established how to better manage ourselves. We also do a meditation experience; this part of the programme is designed to get people thinking about how they can integrate neuro leadership into their work.

Can you provide examples of the kind of things alumni have implemented or changed in their lives following their involvement in the programme?

We’ve educated 109 colleagues so far from around the world, a dozen of which have been promoted since, including Deans. Of course, it’s not all down to the programme and I’d like to emphasise that this isn’t a quick way of getting a better job.

One great thing about the Executive Academy is that it creates strong connections between participants in terms of their personal support for each other and their potential to collaborate. We’ve had individuals who didn’t know each other before the programme but afterward have ended up doing joint programmes together.

When we started we didn’t know exactly what Executive Academy was going to be, but we knew what we didn’t want it to be. We didn’t want it to be another massive conference where 400 people came together to talk about their best practice. We, the faculty, are here to facilitate the learning process, not tell stories.

“We’ve had individuals who didn’t know each other before the programme but afterwards have ended up doing joint programmes together.”

How do you evaluate the Executive Academy to ensure it remains relevant in the face of constant economic, technological and cultural change?

We’ve created a very strong alumni association. There are a president and a few board members. We meet at least once a year face-to-face and have several online meetups and webinars. As our alumni have been through the programme, they’re well placed to provide feedback and suggestions.

I lead the Executive Academy but my full-time job is as Associate Dean of EADA Business School. In other words, I’m in a similar professional position so I understand the challenges that our participants are facing. We as facilitators aren’t isolated from reality – quite the opposite: we’re exposed to real challenges. We walk the talk!

Do you market or promote the programme, and if so, how?

At the moment we don’t need to do a lot of marketing; most of our participants come to us because a previous candidate has recommended the programme to them. Our alumni are our biggest advocates.

“Per Aspera ad Astra (Through a Path of Thorns to the Stars): EA is well organized, demanding and exciting program with lots of work leading to lots of joy with partners – co-equals from various contexts. Effort leads to results!”
Jurica Pavičić, Executive Academy Graduate, 2018

“Fabula Docet (Story Teaches Us): EA story with its proper structure and content taught me a lot of encouragement, motivation, and sharing!”
Dean, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Zagreb, Croatia

What can institutions do to embrace a third-generation mindset?

We’re currently in a project-led era; it’s a time where someone can be leading a team at one point and be led by others the next. We are entering an era known as the Team of Teams.

Universities aren’t isolated from the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) and digital disruption, so we need to become more flexible, innovative and connected. Globalisation is a reality in business schools and all of this is reflected in the Executive Academy programme. I ran one of the sessions where we look at at the higher education industry under the lens of disruptive innovation.

We’re starting to see how the digital component, the fact that you can study everywhere and anywhere, challenges the traditional status quo of studying for one to three years in one place. We’re sharing examples of higher education institutions and players in the business world who are disrupting the industry.

We’re starting to see how the digital component, the fact that you can study everywhere and anywhere, challenges the traditional status quo of studying for one to three years in one place.

What do you predict business education will look like in 2030?

I think business education and higher education, in general, is going to become a constant in our lives. I’m not talking about going back to school, I’m saying that school will fit flexibly into our lives. Humans have several habits: we have to eat every day, sleep every day, do some exercise several times a week, etc.

Education, reskilling and retraining is going to become one of these habits. There will be times in our lives where the habit will have to become more intensive, as well as moments where it’ll take a back seat.

The beauty is that we’ll have the tools we need. Institutions will be able to offer digital support and impactful face-to-face experiences, like the Executive Academy. The combination of methods is what’s going to help education be constant and robust.

Finally, how do you achieve a work-life balance – is it easy to practice what you teach?

I used to be an international water polo player before moving onto academia, and a few years ago I found that swimming really helps me balance my family, job and my involvement in the EFMD and my main EADA role. I swim three times a week and do open water swimming and race competitively in the summer.

It’s important for everyone to strike the right balance between family, professional life, additional projects, traveling, sports, nutrition, and sleep.

Brain Balance is everything!