In The Classroom: Berkeley’s Executive Leadership Program

This is the second in a series of articles in which we spend a day embedded in an executive education program and report directly from the classroom on the experience. For this article, we sent reporter Neelima Mahajan-Bansal to UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business’ week long Executive Leadership Program.

Four people from Team Nine stand huddled over a pile of multi-colored blocks, while a fifth guy hovers closely, observing them and listening to the ensuing conversation.

“Let us sort the different blocks by shape,” says the leader of the group as he starts to build the team’s strategy. The other three (the builders) hurriedly sort the blocks into different piles – the squares in one place, the rectangles in the second and the flat ones in the third – and start building a tower.

“Let’s shoot for a 10 or 12 inch tower,” says the leader holding a foot rule next to the tower measuring what they have been able to achieve thus far.

Three people building a tower that’s a couple of inches tall might sound like child’s play, but that’s where things start to get interesting. The three builders will do this with blindfolds on and will use only their non-dominant hand. The leader – the only one who doesn’t have a blindfold on – is allowed to speak, but not touch. And the regulator – the guy who was hovering around – makes sure that no one violates the rules.

This is a typical scene from a group exercise at the Berkeley Executive Leadership Program (BEXL), a one-week long program on leadership which brings together 50-odd senior executives from across the country and abroad to the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley. The goal of the course: To allow already accomplished executives a brief professional pause to reflect on what they have become as leaders today, where they want to go from here, and what they will do to get there.

These executives come from a variety of industries and some are already in the C-suite while others are ready to take on positions of greater authority and responsibility. For most participants, this is the first time they have been back in a classroom after years. Right now they are breaking their heads of innocuous-looking blocks of wood, but soon they will be dealing with real-life issues and dilemmas that confront a leader.