Best Lessons From The MBA Class of 2016

Georgetown's Coral Taylor

Georgetown’s Coral Taylor


Team settings are often where MBAs gain their deepest insights into the interpersonal side of business. Like many, Georgetown’s Coral Taylor, who started as a product manager at Starbucks this month, discovered that she needed to learn how to follow before she could lead. “One of the greatest lessons I learned is how to cooperate and collaborate with a team even if I may not agree with the direction the team is going,” she says. “Sometimes there is greater value in having a cohesive vision than pushing for the team to take one individual’s vision.”

Others learned to reserve judgment on their peers. Arizona State’s Phil Jeong has observed that the hectic B-school lifestyle can “desensitize students and create an atmosphere where students make quick judgments in regards to other students.” Such feelings may not reflect fact, which is why Jeong has committed himself to building bridges instead of slapping on labels. “I believe it is crucial to step back and be mindful of others, as we don’t know what each individual is going through on a daily basis,” he explains.

Although the Class of 2016 admits that team dynamics can create extra work, they add that it often acts as a force multiplier. “You can accomplish anything if you build out a well-rounded team and pool resources,” says Carnegie Mellon’s Samantha Grant. “Monstrous tasks can be broken into smaller components, and no one person has to know or do everything.” According to MIT’s Brian Kirk, a former submarine warfare officer, the best teams are the most diverse ones. “When everybody coming to the table comes from different professional backgrounds, cultural heritages, and geographics — and wants to actively listen and learn from one another — great things can happen.”


One of those great things is life-long connections. Emory’s Heidi Laki admits that early on, she focused too heavily on academics and career and nearly missed out on the real benefits of business school. “About a year in,” she explains, “I realized I was neglecting a huge part of the experience by not nurturing the relationships I had developed. I realized the friendships you build in business school are your future wedding party, business partners and confidants.” In other words, Laki built her “network” — a concept sometimes associated with the backroom wheeling and dealing of an old boys’ club.

For Northwestern’s Tim Bossidy, the big lesson was discovering that networking need not be a dirty word. “Rather than associate it with getting ahead through connections versus hard work,” he says, “I now associate it with pushing myself to constantly meet new and interesting people. I have a bigger, better group of friends and people I can learn from and rely on after Kellogg.”

University of Iowa's Kyle Wehr

University of Iowa’s Kyle Wehr


Teamwork and relationships weren’t the only takeaways for this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs. The experimental nature of business school lends itself to looking at process as much as result. Thus, variables are constantly being added, subtracted, and re-arranged. That creates ambiguity, an uncertainty that undermines a comforting certitude that many rely on for decisions. For Indiana University’s Sam Edwards, the MBA was about learning how to embrace ambiguity and develop strategies to lessen it. “The biggest lesson that I learned is that ambiguity is okay,” Edwards shares. “It’s okay because we have learned valuable tools that give us an organized process for how to think about, approach, illuminate, and ultimately solve the ambiguous situation or problem.”

For many MBAs, navigating ambiguity and accepting imperfection are two more requirements for leadership. “There are tradeoffs in every decision,” says the University of Michigan’s Lily Hamburger. Sometimes, points out Penn State’s Ian Nicholas Wetzel, students just need to take a leap of faith. “You’re not going to know all the information to make the best decision at any given time. You have to work with what you’re given and go with it.”

However, things don’t always work out at business school. Startups founder. Job offers aren’t tendered. Attendees don’t always show. That’s perfectly natural — it happens in the real world all the time. “At its core, an MBA is really an education in strategic failure,” writes the University of Iowa’s Kyle Wehr. “After learning this lesson, I better prioritized my time and effort.” Like Wehr, the University of Wisconsin’s Angie Peltzer uses failure as a teachable moment, not a cautionary tale. “Call it experimentation,” she says. “Often we’re afraid of failure, but failure is what enables us to learn. Scientists are accustomed to failure and that’s what enables them to get closer to the next big scientific discovery. The same is true when starting a new business. Keep trying, keep learning, keep iterating.”

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