“My time at the Kravis Leadership Institute”
By Florian Zacher Research Intern & Scholar at Kravis Leadership Institute Student of Psychology, Neuroscience & Business at Medical & Business School Berlin, Germany Founder of REASON - Research & Consulting
“As a German student from Berlin university I had the possibility to work for one semester at the Kravis Leadership Institute. My contact with KLI began long before I arrived, in Germany. I started my search for an organization I would like to join and felt with my psychological and business background that the research field of leadership would be great to go deeper in. I am fascinated about leadership and the impact leadership can have on organizations and societies. I also had written some seminar papers about leadership before. So I took a look at my used sources of my papers: Names like Day and Riggio stood there. It didn’t take long and I came across the Kravis Leadership Institute: A place where all these researchers are working together focused on leadership, embedded in one of the best U.S. colleges the Claremont McKenna College, in a state like California.
I got in contact with the institute immediately and from day one Dr. Sherylle Tan, the Director of Internships and leading researcher in the field of women and leadership, supported me to make my journey come true. During the visa process things weren’t always easy. But five months later when I arrived in America at KLI I knew it was worth it. I was welcomed so warmly from all of my new colleagues that I always had to remind myself working at KLI with some of the best researchers in the world. The organizational structure in the United States and especially at the Kravis Leadership Institute is very flat. The institute has an open door policy. So whenever I had a concern I was able to share my thoughts with my colleagues. Prof. David Day Academic Director of the institute was always open for a conversation too: for just a small chat in the morning or a bigger issue to solve. This is way different from German work structures with strong traditional hierarchical positions. What surprised me for example compared to the German system: In my first week at KLI, Prof. Ronald Riggio invited me for a lunch, and Prof. Day invited me for a talk with him. This gave me the opportunity to speak about my goals I want to archive at KLI and to align my work schedule to my objectives.
My goals for the time at the Kravis Leadership Institute were manifold. Really important was not to see my work environment as just a place of work but as a place of my vocation. Therefore I saw KLI as a central reference point of my life, and wanted to participate actively in as many ways as possible. One of my main objectives was to get into the world of research at KLI to see how researchers work in terms of typical tasks like literature review as well as collecting and analyzing data. But I also hoped to see how researchers work specifically in the United States. I wanted to gain an insight of different research topics and student teams inside of leadership and was fascinated to see how a research institute is organized and works from inside. A big aspect of my curiosity was on the American culture to learn the differences and qualities compared with my background, and to bring my German background actively into the institute. Personally I liked to increase my research skills, communication- and public speaking- skills and to grow as a person in another country and unfamiliar situation.
But besides of these aims I had one main goal: I wanted to give back to the institute as much as I could for giving me the chance to be part of this organization. And I think this approach opened me a lot of doors during my stay. Because of my proactivity I got the chance to join amazing groups and events. For example: Dr. Tan invited me to participate in her Women and Leadership class. I’ve learned over a period of fourteen weeks historical backgrounds of women in power, issues of female leaders because of gender inequality, advantages of a gender equal society and more. Through these topics I wrote different papers to improve my research and writing skills and held presentations. I attended to the Women and Leadership Workshop and learned from life experiences of female alumni, former CMC president, and students about women in leadership, and to find the own way in life and life priorities through talks and different tasks with the participants. In addition I created the Women and Leadership Workshop Report, analyzed data from the surveys, calculated the results and improved my report writing skills.
During my time at KLI I was part of the Institute Team composed of students and institute members. So I could help in advertising and promoting the institute as well as working on social media for the institute. I loved to work with Marilyn. We created promotion flyers for the KLI Conference, flyers for SOURCE competitions and other events. We saw a way to improve the digital marketing of the institute and created a comprehensive concept for the social media future of the institute. Because of my interest on different student studies I also had the chance to join the study: The influence of the American culture on leadership development. I could work with other students and contributed experiences from my german perspective. We shared our study updates every second week at the research meeting and Prof. Day, Dr. Tan and Prof. Riggio helped us to go on in the study progress. During my stay I always tried to be a bridge between the institute staff and the students. Students at the Claremont McKenna College are highly ambitious and at the same time so open minded that it was really easy for me to find amazing friends on my journey. The student lab was my main workplace and gave me the possibility to be close to other students in case they needed support. I had the chance to go on the KLI Retreat with many of them to practice leadership inside of a group over one weekend.
Besides of the student study I worked on my own study to analyze how life habits influences leadership development but the days were mostly filled out with amazing events. I joined presentations of Prof. Day, Prof. Riggio or Prof. Conger and learned many different aspects of leadership. We had a board member meeting with Stuart Williams in which he shared his life experiences of the business world and I got the chance to meet Prof. Jay Conger to have a mind changing lunch with him about consulting and our life journeys.
One of the biggest events during my time was the 27th Kravis-de Roulet Conference. I was allowed to help in preparation for the conference and in organizing the conference dinner. I created a reflection paper of my experiences at the KLI conference and I just can say those experiences were amazing. High position people from Google, Harvard, Pepsi and other famous places shared over two days their opinions and thoughts about leadership and I could interact with them over the whole weekend.
Later in the semester at the Institute Night @ the Ath we supported our institute at an evening of presenting different purposes and studies of every research institute of the Claremont McKenna College. At the Leadership dialogue with the topic: Gender and Leadership, students, staff and leading researchers of the institute came together for a lunch dialogue to talk about issues like prejudices of today’s gender world and how to attract more people into these topics. The list of amazing events at the Kravis Leadership Institute over the semester was nearly endless.
My colleagues always made me feel as a full member of the Kravis Leadership Institute. From my perspective I see them more like a family than just colleagues. I loved to come to the institute every morning and this is really important. It helped me to go to work after five months with the same motivation as I did on the first day. And American work days can be long. It is not mandatory to stay longer but I really liked what I did so It was a pleasure for me to work sometimes till the late evening with my friend and colleague Marko to complete a paper. He was a scholar from China at KLI and helped me in the beginning to adapt really fast to the work style of the institute. In addition Prof. Day helped me to get in contact with people around the institute. So I met for example Prof. Werner Zorman at Harvey Mudd College. We became friends and he invited me to his T-Group for Interpersonal Dynamics with American students.
So besides of my work at the Kravis Leadership Institute I’ve learned on evenings after KLI in the T-Group over 11 weeks, to improve my communication skills, to build trust, to take risks in dealing with others, to stay calm in the face of criticism, and to solve conflicts inside of a group. I also had the chance to get to know Prof. Paul Zak from the Claremont Graduate University and his Neuro- Economics lab. On Wednesday lunch I participated in the christian group at CGU with Carrie Herr. We had events and trips on the weekends and I found amazing friends there too. In addition I played Basketball at CMC and went on hikings in the sounding areas.
The experiences at the Kravis Leadership Institute were incredible. But what did I learn here? First of all, I gained a deep understanding about leadership and what it takes to be a leader. To be a great leader takes more than just stereotypical attributes like an outgoing personality and public speaking skills. Great Leadership is about responsibility. It is about taking care of others to help them grow in sometimes taking myself back and make them the most important persons in the room. It is about listening to the needs of followers to really understand issues instead of pretending to have answers. And it is about being a role model for followers in inspiring them and behaving in that way I want to see from them. I learned these attributes in my time at the Kravis Leadership Institute not just from studies, presentations and classes. Much more I gained these experiences everyday from working with these amazing people. I could observe these traits in how everyone in the institute treated each other with respect and authenticity. In America the employees will never criticized as a person. Only the statement and the topic is questioned. All these attributes shown by my colleagues over more than five months helped me to get a deep insight of how a research institute works. To collect data, searching for literature, evaluating surveys, calculating and all the steps which are necessary to publish a research paper is a long process. But the institute does way more than just that. They organize conferences, promote their researchers, and consider how to spend funds. But most of all they have committed themself to help students to grow.
Besides of my gained professional skills I’ve learned one specific thing: The importance of human relationships. I wanna thank my colleagues of the Kravis Leadership Institute for an unforgettable journey. Especially I wanna thank Dr. Sherylle Tan and Prof. David Day for believing in me from day one and encouraging me to always share my point of view which helped me to realize that instead of trying to please others, being myself is the biggest quality I can bring into a team. I will never forget this human greatness of you. I wanna thank Prof. Jay Conger and Prof. Ronald Riggio for their approach to work. Even if their schedules were packed all day, they always entered and left the institute with a smile. They showed me how important consistency is. Without commitment, I'll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, I'll never finish. And finally one big thank you to all students of the Claremont McKenna College I met at KLI. It was a pleasure to spend our time together, and to get to know you as persons and friends as well as to explore your work style and your culture.
I will take all of my experiences and memories from the Kravis Leadership Institute back to Germany and will arrive in Berlin as a different person. There can be no other approach for me than implementing my gained knowledge about leadership into my professional life as well as my personal life. I will never forget one sentence Prof. Day said to me in the first week: ‘‘At KLI you can achieve your goals. It is just depending on you what you want to do with your time.’’ And my time at the Kravis Leadership Institute was amazing.”
All the best,
Florian Zacher Research Intern & Scholar at Kravis Leadership Institute