What a difference that two years make!
That’s how most MBAs feel after graduation. Just ask them about their first day back at school. The consensus: It was pretty intimidating. For starters, cranking out 70-hour work weeks didn’t really prep them for the workload. Running at the speed of business was a gear short of B-school pace. As first years, they were deluged with choices where every club and event was a chance to make an impact – or miss out.
HUMILITY, LEADERSHIP AND SOFT SKILLS AMONG THE BIGGEST LESSONS
But the biggest lesson? Often, it was the humbling notion that they weren’t the most gifted or accomplished member of their class. Their peers were also valedictorians who had collected accolades and promotions–many prevailing over heart-breaking hardships in the process. In the end, the MBAs who excelled were the ones who quickly embraced their peers. “Everyone’s experience gives them something incredibly valuable to offer in the discussion of virtually any topic,” says Ali Huberlie, a 2015 graduate from the Harvard Business School. “And every single person listening can learn something from each and every other person.”
This spring, Poets&Quants honored 50 of the most distinguished MBAs from the Class of 2015. As part of their nominations, we asked them to share the key lessons they gained during business school. Learning how to lead was among the most transformational experiences for these MBAs. “Being a true leader isn’t about being a person with the loudest voice, or holding power for yourself,” wrote the London Business School’s Anne-Marie Kruk. “Being a great leader involves patience, delegation and a great amount of teamwork.”
At the same time, these MBAs discovered that mastering various principles and processes was really teaching them something deeper. “Hard skills are important and useful, but perishable, observes Jenny Dare Paulin, who graduated last month with an MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “The most important skills you can acquire in business school are the abilities to adapt, interpret and learn.” Even more, they discovered the simple – yet often difficult — foundation for learning that was succinctly summed up by MIT Sloan’s Liat Kaver: “Don’t be shy to ask for help!”
Here is more advice from some of the best from the Class of 2015:
Data Drives Decisions
“I’ve learned that decision-making as a leader is both an art and a science. While it’s critical to gather hard data and input from those around you whenever possible, there’s never a perfect answer. Knowing when to make a call, and when to bring more people and data into the discussion, is an art. My biggest area of growth as a leader was becoming comfortable with this balance between the art and science.” — Nikita Mitchell / University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business
“The biggest lesson I gained was reaching a new level of confidence in my ability to make a decision with limited information. Prior to business school, I had a lot of experience with analyzing situations, weighing the pros and cons of each option, and even making the ultimate decisions. However, business school took my skills to the next level and taught me how to take all of the data available, make calculated assumptions, weigh the potential outcomes and consequences, then execute, pivot if need be, and live with (and learn from) the results. These decision-making skills will be very important when major high stakes situations present themselves in the business world, and a misstep could easily result in multi-million dollar consequences.” — George Wilson / Columbia Business School
“The biggest lesson I learned from business school is that different is great. For me, this story began when I chose to go with Johnson Cornell Tech MBA in lieu of a traditional business program. While my friends and family saw the new program as a risk, I saw it as an opportunity. And by deciding to do something different, I got to build new companies, create change in community engagement, and knowledge sharing, and shape how academic curriculum should change. I got to learn from David Tisch, Greg Pass, and Jonah Berger on how to manage products and ideas. I got to meet lifelong friends, who will be the next Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. I got to do great things, because I decided to do something different. I learned that there is always something we can learn from the people around us, so ask questions and be open to challenge. Know that there is no black or white.” –– Miwa Takaki / Cornell University, Johnson Graduate School of Management
“I learned that I am more capable than I ever thought possible. While at Ross I took multiple risks and learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I tried new classes, traveled to new places, worked in different cultures, and actively pursued leadership opportunities outside of my comfort zone. Each experience helped me gain confidence in my abilities, and encouraged me to pursue new challenges.” — Audrey Horn / University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
“The difference between great ideas and great change is execution, and being the person who executes is just as important and fulfilling as the being the ideator. In everything I got involved in at Haas, I realized that I am a great executor. Though on the surface, being an executor isn’t as sexy as being an ideator, my time at Haas has taught me that change won’t happen unless there’s someone pushing things along…I learned to be proud of the fact that I can execute well, and that creativity isn’t just about how many new ideas you have, but also about how many new ways you can make them happen.” — Katie Benintende / University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business