How I Learned to Lead at the Carlson School

I learned to lead at the Carlson School

“What is business school, really?” is a question I am often asked by friends and family.

Early in my time at Carlson, I responded by talking about the classes, the networking, and all the B-school clichés. As I reflect on my first year, I now answer the question differently: business school is leadership school. At the Carlson School of Management, I’ve been inundated with leadership opportunities, both formal and informal. The confidence, style, and skills I have gained are worth more to me than the three letters behind my name.

When I arrived at Carlson, I jumped on the structured opportunities to lead through the student association. I quickly asserted myself as a leader in my cohort by coordinating resources, planning events, and intentionally getting to know everyone. In October, I was elected to represent my cohort in the student association, where I had the privilege of working with a talented team of first- and second-year MBAs to shape the student experience. One leadership role often leads to another, and I was elected president for 2017-2018.

While there is value in formal leadership roles, there is also something to be said for taking the lead in a white space. I developed my own opportunity to lead by starting a new case competition. A 110-year-old bar recently reopened across the street from Carlson, and my class developed a strong culture through many a conversation at that bar. My classmate had an idea to host the inaugural Minneapolis-St. Paul Small Business Case Competition, featuring the bar as our case, and I ran with her idea. Students enjoyed working on a case where they could see the results of their work carried out. I had the priceless opportunity to hire a management team and step into an advisory role. Creating from scratch is a unique leadership experience, and Carlson supported me in trying something new.

Lastly, Carlson helped me learn to lead through conversations over coffee with leaders across industries and backgrounds. From the CFO of a university, I heard stories about how a career is often more of a journey than a ladder. With each director and manager I met from Fortune 500 companies, I came to appreciate the value of being trained by the best at large corporations. The individuals with whom I met for coffee held a gold mine of leadership experiences, and I learned how to ask meaningful questions to extract them.

Business school truly is leadership school, but it’s on you to uncover, invent, and obtain the leadership lessons you desire. I know my investment in my leadership will pay dividends in the years to come.


Angela Wittrock is pivoting from merchandising to corporate finance via her MBA at the Carlson School of Management.   She enjoys Excel tips and exploring her interest in social enterprises.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.