The HEC Executive Community regularly organizes leadership activities and networking excursions. Conceived as a way to foster community within the program participants of HEC Executive Education—a separate HEC Paris entity from the Executive MBA— these activities are nonetheless open to EMBA participants and alumni, representing one of the few opportunities for them to network in a joint skill-building activity with members of HEC Executive Education and TRIUM EMBA.
Recently, I undertook a full week training in crisis management at the French Gendarmerie’s Chamonix CNISAG training center.
The CNISAG is affiliated with a special unit of French alpine first responders, the PGHM. It was created in 1958 and has been spreading amazing values ever since.
Some figures: 1,000 yearly helicopter evacuations and more than 50,000 lives saved since its inception. In recent years, they participated in search and rescue operations during major crises like the Germanwings Disaster and the 2012 Mont Blanc Avalanche.
The immersive experience in this world expanded my emotional and physical resources and I went through it in silence and contemplation. It turned out to be an amazing gift, as I turned 40 in March.
“I was not expecting this experience to be such a valuable leadership lesson.”
Even though we were immersed in a hostile environment deep in the alps, I was not expecting this experience to be such a valuable leadership lesson. Experiencing this firsthand, along with my fellow trainees, exposed us to the harsh reality and humility of confronting nature, as well as the necessity of self-management in facing one’s own limitations.
There was a full day, in snowshoes, with a thousand-meter mountain ascension in harsh weather conditions carrying a fully loaded backpack along with the weight of our own personal apprehensions. The exercise featured, among other things, victim assistance scenarios and avalanche survivor search training to deepen the challenge. Stress built up because of fatigue, muscle cramps, and low visibility. The temperature dropped to -13 C before we found refuge.
Key Leadership Takeaways
Over the course of our journey, four essential takeaways emerged in my mind:
First, leaders should be led by the group’s needs.
Secondly, inaction in crisis leads to paralysis and certain failure.
Thirdly, acknowledging limitations leads to an alternative, ultimately successful path.
Finally, humanity is the common denominator that federates and unites effort and motivation.
On that last point: the dedication of the PGHM on preserving human life was a common denominator worthy of our motivation and full admiration. The ability of these professionals— in split-second decisions— to be able to take a step back to weigh vital risks, and finding the best case scenario in constantly-evolving uncertainty, inspired and hopefully paved the way for us to achieve a more purposeful potential in the future.
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