Earlier this year, Chasm Partners Co-Founder & Partner, Kristy Lindquist, graduated with a Master of Organizational Psychology and Change Leadership degree (subsequently referred to as XMA, short for Executive Master of Arts) from Columbia University. While reflecting on her experiences with colleague and XMA Alumna Meredith Damore, Executive Director of ChasmLead, Kristy opened up about her decision to go back to school, the value of her experience and why other executives should consider re-entering the classroom.
About the Program
The XMA program at Columbia University is developed specifically for experienced working professionals from a diverse range of industries, sectors and geographic locations. The year-long, intensive Executive Masters Program in Change Leadership is designed to help individuals and organizations increase their capacity for initiating, managing and sustaining workplace change efforts in increasingly complex and global environments. Learn more about the program here.
What prompted you to pursue an additional master’s degree at this stage in your career?
To put it simply, my intrinsic motivation to become a great leader. I’m a seasoned executive and have a strong skill set, but I wanted to understand what academic frameworks I could put around my experience to not only become a better leader at Chasm Partners but also to help our clients in their growth companies. We work with growth teams in VC and PE backed companies that are at the epitome of change, so the idea of learning to become a better change leader is something I am very passionate about.
The launch of ChasmLead was also a catalyst for my choice to go back to school. It’s been my goal to build that alongside [Meredith] and to have a meaningful impact with our clients beyond talent acquisition. There’s much to be done as it relates to leadership development, whether it’s workshops, leveraging the 5 Behaviors of a Team survey, executive coaching, or learning from psychometric assessments, and I want to do more of that work.
What about this specific program appealed to you?
I was interested in the XMA program for two key reasons. First, my life and career have always been about change. I left the U.S. in my early 20s and worked in different countries, led intercultural teams in various industries, worked in public and private companies and co-founded Chasm Partners which we’ve grown from two to more than 60 employees in eight years. Second, I am committed to lifelong learning and have always been fascinated by psychology and the behavior of people and organizations. I love to learn about leadership and the paths that leaders take as it relates to their development — it’s something I “geek out” on. I am an avid fan of Adam Grant, Harvard Business Review, John Maxwell, Stephen Covey and many others. So, as I learned more about the program, I realized that it would not only give me the academic frameworks I was looking for but also enable me to explore my passions and develop my skill set.
Was there any hesitation in your decision to go back to school?
Yes, the thought of writing a paper after 35 years terrified me. [Laughs] In all seriousness, the time commitment required while leading a business gave me pause, not to mention my concern about being the oldest student in the cohort. But, my late husband always said to me, “If not now, when?” So, I told myself that I would apply and if I got in, I was going for it, and if I didn’t, I would leave it alone. You can guess the outcome of that!
“If not now, when?”
What was it about that point in your life that made you think, “Now is the time?”
I was interested in 2019 after you shared your experience in the program, but I spent the next two years as a caretaker in addition to building this company so it was impossible. In late 2021, I decided that time was of the essence and I was either going to do it or never do it — there is never a perfect time for anything. After I made the decision, everything fell into place.
Expectation vs. Reality
Let’s fast forward to starting the program at Columbia. As you went into the first module, how did your expectations vary from your experience?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I quickly learned was that the program is extremely diverse, which I found to be helpful as one of the more senior people in my cohort. I had very different experiences than some of my more junior cohort members, but we were all open to learning from each other. Just because I was more senior didn’t mean I had less to learn than other members of the cohort, I just had different things to learn.
“Just because I was more senior didn’t mean I had less to learn.”
A focus of the program is leadership — specifically change leadership. We were put through just about every personality and leadership assessment available, and I was also receiving 360 feedback from a wide range of people who have worked with me over the years. I am not kidding when I tell you that I have more data on myself than I could ever want. However, this data gave me the opportunity to deeply reflect on myself as a leader which was incredibly helpful. I was genuinely surprised that the program focused so much on our personal leadership skills, but ultimately, that is what matters most when leading change.
Is The Risk Worth The Reward?
If you were to give advice to someone who may be at a similar stage in their life and considering the decision to go back to school, what would you say?
I think it’s fantastic that our education system has executive education programs because it wouldn’t be possible for most of us to press pause on our careers to pursue further education. Being able to attend part-time gave me the ability to continue working but also explore this passion, so I’m very grateful that these curriculums exist.
For me, my measure of success was not to receive perfect grades but to focus on learning and growth. This relieved the pressure, and let me have fun, be present and absorb what I was learning. So, if you are considering a similar program, I say send the application. If you get accepted and decide to commit, I encourage you to give 150 percent and to fully participate in every element. Sure, it’s a huge commitment but the benefits are undeniable. I got the chance to meet people from various backgrounds and walks of life that I would’ve never had the chance to meet, and it brought me out of my comfort zone. I was also exposed to concepts I’d never heard of before, and reading literature I had never read before. It was life-changing.
Making Impacts Outside of the Classroom
How do you plan to use your degree both as a leader and an advisor to our clients?
It’s unfolding. I think the learnings will continue to come over time in different situations. However, I believe it starts with me as a leader, not just at Chasm, but also how I co-lead this company, our teams, client engagements and even my own life. I am much more aware of my strengths and what makes me effective, and able to reflect on my shortcomings. This skill not only helps me understand other leaders, but also the people on my team understand the leaders we’re working with in search.
One of my favorite things about the program was the Burke-Litwin Model which is a tool to enable x-ray vision into organizations. When I put on my “x-ray vision goggles,” I can better understand the overt and covert dynamics in an organization which has helped me make immediate impacts on our clients and their businesses. I have learned that there is so much going on below the surface and I gained some valuable tools to help diagnose organizations.
Great Leaders Make Great Organizations
Any parting words of advice to share with other executives in our industry?
As a leader, you need to have a strong sense of self-awareness. However, this isn’t really possible if you don’t ask for and openly receive feedback. One of my favorite John Maxwell books is “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” with rule number one being “The Law of the Lid.” This basically states that there is a lid on or limit to our potential that is determined by our leadership ability. As we grow our abilities as a leader, we automatically grow our ability to impact the world. If our leadership ability stagnates, so does our ability to make a bigger impact. I love this way of thinking because if you’re a leader, but you’re not pushing yourself to become a great leader, your organization will never grow past your current leadership ability.
“If you’re not pushing yourself to become a great leader, your organization will never grow past your current abilities.”
It’s hard to lead. It’s hard to make decisions and be on the front lines all the time. However, it’s critical that you take the time to expand your skill sets and be honest with yourself because it not only benefits you but also the future of your organization.
About Chasm Partners
Chasm Partners is on a mission to transform healthcare through human capital. It is our goal to effect lasting change in healthcare by partnering with the nation’s top investors and innovative companies in healthcare services and technology. We act as an extension of our clients to source, place and develop key Executive and Non-Executive talent in their organizations. We believe that talent is a prerequisite for an organization’s success, and are proud to leverage our network, expertise and technology to our client’s advantage.
ChasmLead utilizes evidence-based and proprietary approaches to help disruptive healthcare companies and their investors up-level leader and team performance to improve cultures and achieve organizational goals. With over 20 years of extensive business and leadership experience and deep expertise in healthcare, ChasmLead’s four key offerings — Executive Coaching, Psychometric Assessments for Individuals and Teams, ChasmDiligence and Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Advisory Services — play a critical role in leader selection, onboarding and retention. Learn more here.