It’s been difficult to find time to blog lately, as my full attention has been shifted to my full-time MBA studies at Babson, but I wrote a reflection paper on the MBA experience thus far, and thought I might as well post it here. It’s a quick run-through of where I was coming from, where I am now, and where I am going in the future.
The past: a Frankenstein of Predictive Models
Recently in the course of study here at Babson, I have come to realize that the practice of helping organizations navigate change, is one of the true marks of leadership. In the course of my own career I have found myself ceaselessly deconstructing both my successes and failures in order to try to boil out salient lessons about leadership.
I quickly realized that while I could intuit a series of mental constructs about organizational behavior, assembling a Frankenstein of predictive models from a synthesis of lectures, books and personal experiences, I could never quite wrap them into holistic behavioral models. Even in terms of personality types, I found that while I intuitively knew some characteristics of certain personalities, I could not articulate those distinct types as clairvoyantly as Robert and Dorothy Bolton did in People Styles. In the course of my exposure to People Styles, I experienced two distinct moments of wide-eyed amazement: first, when I read about my own personality type and found the characterization to be profoundly accurate, and second when we engaged in class discussion on the matter. Knowing a number of individuals on a personal level by that time, something clicked in my own mind and I was able to understand these individuals more clearly. Meanwhile, I found myself fighting the human condition of categorization, repeatedly telling myself that the four personality types were merely predictive models (albeit good ones) and that there was much more nuance in people than these models allowed for.
The present: MBA, the Power of Nuance and the Beginnings of a Personal Transformation
Indeed, while I had been consistently aware of the power of nuance in a number of situations which I had encountered, never have I had as unique an opportunity to explore the depth and power of nuance, as I have here at Babson. One great example of such nuance can be found in the fearless leadership of Jack Welch at GE, as he managed the company through a necessary series of organizational changes which made the firm into a shining image of organizational behavior. Conversely, while this leadership style may have set the company on a path to hyper-efficiency and profitability, it may have created the distinct barriers to innovation which have, in recent years, stifled progress for the firm. Beyond this simple nuance, perhaps Welch’s management style may still have been what the company needed at the time – an organizational conundrum which I could personally relate to as I have watched a number of management teams and CEO’s being purposefully brought in to exact much-needed organizational change on a temporary time horizon. Conversely, it seems at times almost impossible to know exactly when one “era of need” ends and another begins. So how can one extract actionable learnings from the study of such amorphous, real-life situations?
In examining case after case, one can be tempted to get mired in the individual lessons of team dynamics from the likes of MediSys, (wherein siloed internal teams couldn’t outgrow their departmental loyalties and true leadership was nowhere to be found) or be tempted to observe the personal myopia that can grow from being so wholly vested in an idea that one becomes aggressively exclusionary to those around them (Deborah DiSanzo). Salient as these lessons may be, they can be drastically altered by new developments, throwing simplified predictive models out the window with every new permutation. To me, the value of the educational experience thus emerges from the nuances around a particular situation, and the method of reasoning behind the analysis.
In short, this implies that the MBA experience is more about transforming and developing my own unique way of thinking, rather than the assembly of some series of lessons or tools into some global mind-map of leadership and management. While individual lessons are important to remember for the simple reason that they codify organizational insights in the form of stories, I strongly feel that each of us must look deep within ourselves and understand what each lesson means to us on a personal level.
In wading through the sea of interconnected insights and organizational patterns gleaned from Mod 1, I found solace in the affirmation of certain personal truths, while being awakened to new insights which changed the way I look at leadership and organizational behavior altogether. As an example, the module reaffirmed my strong conviction in the power of nuance, while challenging me to grow beyond a simplistic level of analysis such as is the case when a student tells a teacher what theoretically ought to be true (ie John should use a compliment sandwich when talking to Fred), but what often has little or no connection with reality. Additionally, stories like that of Rick Drumm reaffirmed my belief in being genuine and passionate about what you do, while being relentlessly opportunistic in our pursuit of our dreams (sometimes at the cost of clearly seeing your eventual goals). Even more importantly, the program has begun to instill in me an imperative for action toward my personal goals of starting my own venture.
In a few short weeks, I have started to observe the beginnings of a personal transformation which I believe would have taken much longer to complete in the corporate world. While I have already been empowered with a number of organizational mental models, guided through a series of ideation exercises, and challenged to predict the ripple effects of my personal actions on others within an organization, I realize that these insights are merely foundational. Moreover, as I have now fully traded the “corporate classroom” for a an academic one, I no longer feel in any way constrained in my exploration of any ideas.
The future: More than an Infatuation with Entrepreneurial Thought and Action…
As I continue on the MBA journey, I seek to consistently build upon my foundational knowledge, while being mindful to curate my personal way of thinking in a manner which shapes me into the leader that I want to become. Now that I have begun to see the world through fresh eyes, I am anxious, yet excited, to see how much deeper and richer my perspective can grow. More importantly, I am inspired to take personal action in order to affect the change that I want to see in the world around me.