Every applicant has a primary motivation to attend an MBA program. It may be a two-year pause for self-reflection away from the corporate grind, the chance to broaden knowledge across business functions, or even an opportunity to pivot one’s career to a new industry. Whatever the primary reason, most of my classmates mention that they would cherish the opportunity to sharpen their leadership identity – honing strengths, pinpointing weaknesses, and experimenting in a secure environment.
Deputy Dean for MBA Programs Stacey Kole presented a finding from a 2018 year-end survey that, “the Class of 2019 is highly interested in developing leadership skills: 60% say it’s essential, 30% say it’s important, and 10% say it’s preferred. Communicating persuasively was one of the most common skills that students sought to improve.” Once we kickoff our MBA at Booth, we are given a myriad of instances in our daily activities that we can harness to push ourselves to be better leaders.
Mary Reid Ervin, Leadership Coach in the Leadership Development office at Chicago Booth, said, “I find Booth to be this amazing opportunity to test leadership capacities in a really difficult environment, because there’s no formal hierarchy…it challenges you to think about how you’re managing the different dynamics of a team. In situations like these, you leverage your leadership skills to activate the energy of others to create meaningful change. It has incredible long-term implications.”
Ervin identified two reasons why stepping up as a leader in group work is particularly transformative here at Booth. The first is that we exist in a flat structure where no individual business student has designated power over another, making it a unique opportunity to organize peer groups towards a common goal. Secondly, we are motivated to build positive relationships during the MBA experience that we’ll sustain over our lifetimes, so we must employ diplomacy effectively to enhance group dynamics.
We will face these same two traits of group work throughout our careers. Whether as a cross-functional team member, a board member, or even a family member, a flat structure and hope for long-term relationships are present. Our time at Booth is like a sandbox – within the guardrails of being a student, we can experiment with new ways of accomplishing a goal, including how we work with and influence others. Sure, the process may feel out of our comfort zones the first few times, but after practice we can take learnings of techniques in influencing and leadership that work well for us back into the “real” world where the stakes are much higher.
My experience engaging, and seeing my classmates engage, in this opportunity during my time at Booth has been incredibly energizing. In study groups, we’ve learned through trial and error how to efficiently split work among classmates in ways that allow us to both capitalize on our individual strengths and develop proficiency in areas where we need to grow.
In case competitions, we’ve powered through time constraints and learned strategies to motivate our peers when they face fear of failure. In event planning, we’ve created mechanisms to identify and prevent unfair distribution of administrative tasks. In brainstorming sessions, we discovered how to balance the need for varied roles from the idea generators, to devil’s advocates, to project managers.
In these activities and many more, I’ve found it valuable to find opportunities for myself and my peers to step up daily as leaders here at Booth. There is no better time to start developing this key management skill than during the Booth MBA experience.