Monday, October 13, 2014

Top 10 List: What LEAD Teaches You About Navigating Booth

Your first “real” experiences at Booth come from the LEAD program. LEAD stands for Leadership Effectiveness and Development, and it is the only required class you’ll take at Booth. The class starts during orientation and lasts about six weeks into your first quarter.  It’s composed of various modules designed to prepare you for leadership roles. Modules range from learning about your personality traits and how that impacts your conflict resolution skills to practicing your presentation skills. It’s also where you meet many of your friends. In honor of the ten LEAD cohorts, here are the Top 10 things LEAD can teach you navigating life at Booth:

1. LOR (the Leadership Orientation Retreat) is a microcosm of your life at Booth. LEAD starts with a three-day retreat in Lake Geneva, WI. The days you spend at the retreat mirror what you can expect from life at Booth – you’ll be challenged during the three days, but you’ll also get personalized and reflective training through the LEAD programming. By the time night falls, you’ll be relaxing and partying with 600 of your closest friends across the resort.

2. Your Cohort and Squad from LEAD will be where you find the first of many friends you meet at Booth. Through LEAD, you’re divided into one of ten cohorts. You’ll attend LEAD programming in these cohorts. Even after your formal class time ends, you’ll still have events organized in/by the cohort throughout the year. To get more personal attention, you’ll be divided into 7 or 8 person squads. Since much of LEAD becomes very personal and intimate, you’ll get to know the members of your squad better than anyone else you meet at Booth.

3. Cohorts give you a sense for the uniqueness of Booth students. Knowing that Booth has a flexible curriculum, you’d expect a diversity of interests among students and your experience in LEAD really showcases that.  Unlike some other schools, your cohort isn't determined by an intended concentration or future function/industry. This ends up being a great benefit, because you’ll end up meeting people with the same interests through classes, student groups and recruiting events. But by mixing things up in the cohort system, you’ll already have a great start on a diverse network for when you graduate.

4. Culture of giving back. One of the greatest attributes of the Booth community is the prevalence of second-year students ready, willing and able to help first-year students succeed. While first-year students see this happening in a multitude of ways, your first taste of this culture comes from LEAD, where, instead of a professor, 40 second-year students design and run the course and make the various modules relevant to you.

5. Booth (and LEAD) are all about taking risks. As Dean Kole likes to say, business school is your off-season, and there’s no better time to take risks. Through LEAD you’ll give a speech in front of your cohort, participate in the high-ropes course at LOR and be asked to at least try things that you wouldn't normally do with your job on the line. These will all help make you a more effective leader after graduation. For example, business school is probably the best time to bomb while giving a presentation, especially compared to the final presentation nearly all internships will require!

6. LEAD (and B-School in general) mark a transition point. While your classmates come from a variety of backgrounds, everyone here is a high performer. By the time you graduate and have your first post-MBA job, it’ll no longer be enough to do well on whatever you’re assigned. Instead, you’ll have to accomplish goals by leading teams and working with others. LEAD will teach you that great leaders are made and not born, and that we all have individual areas to work on to make us better leaders. Through the introspective approach to development, you’ll learn exactly what those areas are for you.

7. To succeed at Booth, you have to be humble. Aspects of LEAD are intentionally uncomfortable, especially as you learn how others see you. The key to the LEAD program is your ability to take what you learn constructively and to not become overly defensive. If you can’t force yourself to listen, these programs become very difficult. For example, one LEAD module looks at how you are initially perceived by your colleagues. I learned I am initially perceived as being direct, candid and tough (as opposed to being warm and non-judgmental), likely because I often rely on sarcasm. Getting feedback like this can initially be unsettling, but it’s also important information to learn. Knowing this, I can try to avoid sarcasm when meeting new people and try to make myself more approachable.

8. But humility doesn't mean we don’t compete. LEAD helps foster a sense of healthy competition. From Fall Frolics (a field day-like competition) to the Golden Gargoyles (the Oscars, but for Cohort-produced videos), your cohort will be competing against the other nine. Eventually, these competitions build into the year-long cohort cup sponsored by the Graduate Business Council. There are also opportunities to compete as an individual through LEAD, with things like day-long leadership and/or public speaking competitions. While we’re not allowed to disclose what actually happens at these competitions, the thing that surprised me most was the school’s ability to bring in incredible alumni judges (including top partners at some of the best-known consulting firms), which indicates how the culture and community built at Booth doesn't end with graduation.

9. The diversity at Booth means you can always learn something from your classmates. In the Class of 2015, 36% are international students and 49% were born outside the United States. With the huge multi-cultural community, LEAD devotes an entire session to living and working in a country other than your own. For U.S.-born students, you get a sense of how your actions can easily be misinterpreted in other cultures and how you can help make the transition for your international peers easier. For international students, the session demonstrates some of the cultural norms of working in the United States and how these may differ from other countries.

10. LEAD creates a shared experience with Booth Alumni. Just as LEAD starts to wind down, recruiting will kick into high gear (for those recruiting on-campus, at least). Since LEAD is the only required class at Booth, and since the experience is pretty unforgettable, you’ll instantly have something in common with the many Booth Alumni who come back to campus to recruit. It’s not uncommon to hear them talking about how much fun they had at the ropes course during LOR, how they've ended up using  what they learned in the presentation workshop  in their new jobs and/or how they’re still in touch with the people in their cohort. 

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