Wanting to strengthen her capabilities in leadership and team building, Nina Hoas thoroughly researched executive education programs around the world. In the Program for Leadership Development (PLD) at Harvard Business School (HBS), she found unexpected benefits for herself, her clients, her company—and society.

Q. Why did you decide to attend PLD?

I researched many different programs, created a huge spreadsheet, and then started contacting past participants. Many were enthusiastic about their experiences, but nothing could compare with what the PLD graduates said. PLD is a little bit longer than other programs, so you have to decide whether you can take the time off. My employer, UBS, was very supportive. After talking with people who had attended PLD, there was no question in my mind that this was the right program for me.
I assumed HBS would have a great faculty, but the PLD graduates said they had also learned much from the other participants. I liked the idea of being among a group of peers that I would learn from. In addition, I was drawn to the way people talked about PLD as a life-transforming experience—one that changed the way they approached business challenges as well as any challenge in life.

Q. What were your key goals in attending?

I wanted to learn more about leadership and team building so I could build a stronger team and facilitate a culture that would foster collaboration. But I also wanted to lead something more ambitious within the organization. I can make a certain degree of social impact through assisting ultra-high net worth individuals with their philanthropy, but I could see a bank like UBS making a bigger contribution to society. I wanted to learn how I could be part of a bigger change.

Q. How did the program compare with your expectations?

My expectations were nothing compared with what I gained from PLD. It was an experience that changed me both professionally and personally. The most surprising parts were the magnitude of the change and the speed at which I could apply the learning back in my work setting. In fact, after I came back from the first on-campus module, I started receiving feedback from my team members about the difference in my approach.
The coaching sessions, the peer learning, and the feedback—all of it helped me become more self-aware, identify specific areas for further development, and then begin to improve those aspects of my leadership. I’ve learned many important lessons about what a good leader does—and started putting them into practice. Some things come naturally to me now that weren’t natural before.
I think my team is stronger and much more collaborative now. Working together to build a strong team is an ongoing process, obviously, but the changes I have made in my own approach are producing a rapid and very positive impact on our teamwork.

Q. Did you accomplish your other goal—preparing to have more impact?

The program includes the development of a personal case where each person focuses on addressing an opportunity gap or performance gap. I focused on my ambition of having greater social impact. Within a month after my first on-campus module, I had worked with different business units on what this initiative could look like, presented it to upper management, received approval, and started to implement it. This allowed me to apply everything that I gained from the HBS experience in a very real setting. Through this initiative, we’re institutionalizing something that will become quite revolutionary in my organization. That was a big benefit of the program for me.

Q. What other aspects of the PLD experience stand out?

The program fosters an environment where people are very generous about offering feedback to each other. You don’t get that very often in normal work settings. At PLD, your peers are very open with you and take it for granted that you will give them feedback as well.
Receiving feedback from other people is the single most powerful way to mature or to gain the self-awareness you need to transform. That’s not necessarily something I was seeking, but it was definitely something I took away from PLD. The experience enabled me to start asking for feedback and giving feedback more often at work—not something I would have done before.

Q. Did you have a favorite PLD moment?

My favorite moment was the session on storytelling, acting, and presentation skills, which I participated in with my living group. We were coached on how to be a better storyteller, a better actor, and a better presenter. We were in such a comfortable setting and could be vulnerable and express ourselves. I think that was a very valuable session for every member of my group.

Q. How are you sharing what you’ve learned?

I feel a strong moral imperative to share what I’ve learned because not everyone has the opportunity to attend a program like this one. It’s hard to explain the value PLD has for an individual and for a company, so it’s important to share my learning with others who can benefit.
My learning and development are obviously benefiting me a great deal, but also benefiting my team, my company, and the clients I work with. I advise philanthropists and also work a lot with social entrepreneurs and people driving social change. I am passionate about helping these clients and now have greater knowledge that I can bring to the table to help them run a better social enterprise or become better leaders and change agents.

Q. Will you keep in touch with the people you have met in PLD?

I’ve formed strong relationships and will keep in touch with quite a few people. It’s very humbling to be around them, not only because these people have accomplished a lot, but also because of their kindness and openness to feedback.
You become so close to other individuals when you’ve shared an experience like this. You’re willing to open up to those individuals in ways that you’re not necessarily willing to do with people you’ve known for a long time. I’m sure I’ve formed some life-long friendships.

Q. What advice would you give someone who is considering PLD?

If you aspire to be a better leader or to run a business more effectively, the tools you receive from this program will transform your thinking and also transform the way you operate—so you’ll continue to develop yourself into a much better business leader. The faculty, the method of analyzing cases, the exploration of what makes a good business and a good leader—and the opportunity to work with a great group of supportive peers in an environment that encourages feedback and growth—can help you tremendously.