Everyone has a different set of goals when they start business school…but, I think we all share one common objective: to grow as thinkers and leaders. Coming into Booth, I was riddled with imposter syndrome. I wouldn’t allow myself to believe I was good enough to be here. As I met more Boothies, I saw how brilliant and inspiring my classmates are and shrank further into myself, which inevitably seeped into how I approached group work in classes. I was convinced I’d be the weakest link in my team and this mentality was getting in the way of my own success and growth. I decided if I truly wanted to grow and lead, changing my perspective was an opportunity to push myself.
A tactic that had worked for me in the past was identifying a tangible way to unlearn a bad habit and lead to a new way of thinking. Some examples of this would be getting up early and not looking at your phone until you go outside as a way to unlearn procrastinating in the morning. Or going for a run on Mondays to practice starting the work week out strong. In this instance with imposter syndrome as my bad habit, it was going up to the whiteboard.
I took Entrepreneurial Discovery (a lab class) the Autumn Quarter of my first year, and straightaway was randomly assigned to a group of five. We were an eclectic bunch with an aspiring consultant, a data privacy guru, two techies, and an operations aficionado. I learned so much about what I didn’t know when working in this group just by listening to my teammates brainstorm and share their ideas. My imposter syndrome definitely went on overdrive, as I felt insecure to share my thoughts with the same confidence they did. Reminding myself that I wanted to take this opportunity to grow, I decided to think of the most tangible way to push myself…whiteboarding. I know, you may be thinking, “What does writing on a whiteboard have to do with growing as a leader?” To some it’s a business buzzword, to others a tool in conference rooms that is hardly utilized, but to me it was a technique I had seen modeled in my job pre-Booth by some of the most influential members in meetings. What are the leadership opportunities hidden within this blank white slate?
If you’re using it effectively, the whiteboard is a mechanism to demonstrate your ability to synthesize complex and disparate inputs in a meaningful and digestible way on the spot. It’s a manifestation of strategic and big-picture thinking, sought after leadership qualities we are all familiar with as aspiring leaders ourselves. Going to the whiteboard is one tangible way to exercise this skill. So, I decided whiteboarding was going to be the way to challenge myself in my Entrepreneurial Discovery group.
One member of my group, the operations aficionado, was particularly good at whiteboarding his and the team’s thought processes in a way that painted a holistic picture. I decided he was going to be my “goal-muse,” and I paid close attention to how he transcribed the group’s ideas into works of art on the board. After a couple of meetings, I was ready to put myself to the test to set a baseline for myself against which I would measure my future progression. I asked the team if I could whiteboard for future meetings, explaining the underlying skill I was working on. When I shared this goal, not only did it position me to further develop this skill, it inspired other members to share their own goals. By embracing one of my strengths, my willingness to be open and vulnerable, I led the group toward getting closer, and stronger, as a result.
To say that one group project and a few whiteboarding sessions solved all of my self doubt wouldn’t be true, but each positive experience further affirms that I’m charting the right path and growing along the way. I learned how to advocate for myself by sharing my goals and asking for the opportunities to practice skills I wanted to develop. And now, I’m definitely less hesitant to walk up to a whiteboard to convey my thoughts. What’s more, I uncovered the true value of vulnerability.