Monday, February 11, 2013

The Importance of Leadership Opportunities at Booth

In my first two posts I wrote about the diverse academic and professional opportunities available to Booth students and discussed the work of the Graduate Business Council (GBC), Booth’s student government. In this post I explore the long-term professional value of leadership positions.

Donnie Phillips, President, Graduate Business Council


Looking back on my year as GBC President, I am very proud of the accomplishments of the 45 GBC members I work with closely. We have, among other things, institutionalized new cohort programming, facilitated more robust relationships with alumni, successfully advocated for technology upgrades, and made the GBC more accessible to the student body.

However, upon deeper reflection, there were more important, long-term lessons I learned during my term. Here are three examples:

  1. Teamwork: In contrast to my first job in investment banking, where the focus was often on individual achievement (even in team-based settings), in my post-Booth jobs, I will be judged by the successes of the teams I manage. I view my GBC work as a successful “pilot” – it was the first time I was truly responsible for a large group’s output – and I believe it has increased my readiness for professional management.

  2. Learning to Surrender: While I used to judge my success by the quantity and quality of my accomplishments, this position has taught me that it is harder, but more important, to sometimes say “no.” Whether it is empowering others rather than doing something on my own (i.e., saying “no” to myself) or convincing someone else that their idea is not feasible (i.e., saying “no” to others), these are hard conversations to have. It’s important, however, to start having them in a low-risk environment like Booth.

  3. Motivation/Persuasion: As President, there are many different constituencies I work with directly and indirectly including five other executive board members, 40 GBC reps, 1,150 MBA students, 205 faculty, 450 staff members, and Booth as an institution. Getting multiple constituencies on the same page is not always a straightforward undertaking but learning how to appeal to their varying interests has been a very rewarding lesson.

While this story is my own, I believe there are wide applications to the myriad of other positions available to students, with similar experiential leadership lessons. Some examples:

Admissions Fellows - Learning to Build a Team: How to hire properly and form a stellar team is not something taught on the job. How do you assess numerous people on dozens of subjective and objective characteristics, many of whom are quite qualified in different ways? By reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, Admissions Fellows play a crucial role in shaping each new class and, through that process, are able to learn richer skills.

Club Co-Chairs - Running a Small Business: Members of Booth’s 75 clubs, especially those of the professional groups, are very much like customers; they pay annual membership dues and have high expectations for the lunch ‘n learns, conferences, and career training the groups provide. Additionally, most clubs raise money from corporate partners, which can be akin to fundraising from an outside investor.

Career Advisors - Tactical Mentoring Career Advisors are a group of 40 second-years who help first-year students navigate the recruiting process and advise them on everything from writing cover letters to networking. While traditional mentors are often very senior professionals, these students are able to give actionable advice to other students and aid them in their job search.


Harry Davis, one of the most popular and longest-tenured Booth professors - this will be his 50th year as a faculty member! -, wrote an oft-cited paper on management education when he was Booth’s Deputy Dean of MBA Programs. He wrote:

“Business schools enjoy advantages in three areas that are critical to learning from experience: experimentation, feedback, and practice. Schools can function as laboratories in which students experiment and practice action and insight skills without downside risk to their careers. In addition, fellow students, faculty, and staff can provide frequent feedback, untainted by the personal or political factors within an organization. Finally, an educational setting provides time and opportunities that are difficult to find in a job: To practice skills explicitly, to reflect on levels of achievement, and to spend time remedying deficiencies that would be difficult to examine in actual job settings.”

Looking back on my year as Student Body President, these comments resonate with me deeply. While successfully executing on various initiatives was important, the bigger lessons related to what I learned about my leadership style, the management skills I have experimented with and refined, and the feedback and guidance I have received from the dozens of people I have worked with closely. Most importantly, I am glad to have gone through this experience at Booth - in a low-risk environment - rather than in the “real world.”

As prospective students, you should think about what areas of your leadership style you want to work on while in school and seek out opportunities accordingly. So ask yourself, “What do I want from my Booth experience outside the classroom?”

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