"An amazing leadership journey"
Despite not working in the equine field, in 2015 Megan Rock helped boost her leadership skills by interacting with a horse. The exercise was part of an IMD program on Strategies for Leadership for women executives and took place at an equestrian training center just outside Lausanne. Each participant had 10 minutes to acquaint themselves with a horse, before leading it around a course, the idea being that horses are emotionally intelligent and will not move unless motivated.
The same day Megan had to pair up with a fellow participant, who was blindfolded, and give her instructions on how to approach and lead the horse round the track. “That day, by moving outside of my comfort zone, I learned about trust and also that how you lead depends on the energy you bring.”
Megan, who is Canadian, has worked at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 2002 and is passionate about child protection. After she met her husband during a field mission in Darfur a decade ago and later started a family, they moved to the organization’s headquarters in Geneva in 2011.
After accepting a leadership role in 2015, away from the comfort zone of her experience in an expert advisory role, Megan realized she wanted more tools in her toolkit and connect to a community with experience of similar professional transition. “Suddenly I was managing and leading teams of people who, the previous morning, were my direct colleagues,” recalls Megan.
So, without particularly intending to sign up to a women-only course, Megan embarked on the IMD program in September 2015 “to have a different kind of conversation outside of my organization in a safe space, and to experiment and learn from others.”
For Megan, the program was the catalyst for what she refers to as an “amazing leadership journey” and an environment where she interacted with participants mostly from the private sector, which was something new for her. “I had never interacted with members of the private sector before and I realized this was a leadership story and very personal,” says Megan.
The humanitarian worker soon discovered that the four and a half days spent at IMD, “which felt more like a month,” were an opportunity to share challenges and key learnings within a safe and trusted community. During those sessions, something special happened for Megan. “I felt that something very courageous and very real happened there,” she recalls. On the final day of the program, the women wrote down words of wisdom for each other before going their separate ways. On Megan’s note were the words: “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go out and do it. Because that’s what the world needs: more people who come alive.”
The program lit in Megan a desire to learn more and, since completion, she has gone on to pursue an Executive Master’s in consulting and coaching for change with two prestigious institutions. She has also written a thesis focusing on Women and Leadership transitions at the ICRC. As well as bettering herself through further study, two years on from the program Megan has begun working as a career coach at the ICRC and is leading the launch of a new career development center in 2017. “Being coached at IMD sparked a passion for doing that, and now coaching has become my calling,” says Megan.
So what did Megan learn at IMD? “The main thing I learned is that it’s not about thinking your way into a new way of acting, it’s about acting your way into new ways of thinking,” she says. Megan explains she now finds herself sparking conversations within her organization. “I think before the IMD experience, I was asking a lot of permission to talk and participate and I wasn’t speaking up,” says Megan. “I was asking others’ permission to speak rather than giving myself permission. Now, I just show up, stand in my own shoes, speak with my own voice and interrupt sometimes.”
Was it thanks to the program containing all women participants that set Megan in this new direction? “At first I didn’t really want to box myself in as somebody who goes on a women-only course. Once there, I found it to be a very safe space and felt that an all-female environment inspired me to embark on this journey.”
As for advice to women leaders interested in the program: “It’s only a few days, but it’s a life changer,” explains Megan, “as you can zoom out of the day-to-day, put your phone down and receive the bubble of oxygen you need to make sense of who you have been, who you are right now, in order to feed into who you want to become.”
Find out more about Strategies for Leadership.