Are leaders born or made?
Some people make it look so natural! They project an aura of authority and confidence. When they speak, their words inspire faith and instill passion. Somehow, they can connect with everyone. To groups, their vision is clear and urgent. One-on-one, they possess a knack for bringing out each person’s best. They embrace, empathize, embody, and empower. In the end, they mobilize talent to make a difference.
The best leaders rally forces to move one way and share one purpose. To do that, they need to sell themselves first. Doing that requires practice. Leadership means taking inventory of underlying beliefs and default responses. For most, it is a daily exercise in gaining self-awareness, understanding what shaped them, and how they are perceived.
FULL-TIME COACHES AND 1:1 SESSIONS
Cases may teach MBAs how to sift through alternatives, but coaching hones their responses when they are buffeted by mutinous employees and mercurial clients. It prepares them to reflect consciously and act consistently. This coaching is one reason why MBAs come to Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. That starts with the Accelerate Leadership Center, a mix of assessments, coursework, and feedback – not to mention opportunities to practice leadership in the local community. Here, students develop an authentic leadership style by sharpening their critical thinking, intercultural awareness, and communication skills. Best of all, the programming is customized to each student, focusing heavily on their gaps and personal goals.
Call Tepper a coaching culture, one where full-time coaches hold over 2,000 one-on-one sessions with MBAs each year. Kate Barraclough, who heads Tepper’s MBA program, notes that the leadership programming is designed to help graduates keep the career momentum going after their first promotion – and beyond.
“Unlike other schools, we have full-time leadership coaches dedicated to providing a personalized approach to each student’s unique personal needs and ultimate development,” Barraclough tells P&Q. “The Center offers one-to-one coaching, leadership workshops, programs, and a certification, among other things. Coaches aim to develop each student’s leadership potential and communication skills, helping them meet their own personal and professional leadership goals and achieve long-term professional success. Students have expressed appreciation for the opportunity to develop not only their skills, but their confidence, as well.”
SOFT SKILLS MET HARD FACTS
One of those students is Marissa Miles, who stayed in Pittsburgh to be part of the Class of 2022. An engineer who has spent seven years working in chemical manufacturing, Miles comes to Tepper with the goal of finding greater meaning in her work.
“Like many of my classmates, I was drawn initially by the program’s strong analytical reputation and innovative spirit. What really set Tepper apart, though, was the Accelerate Leadership Center. I knew coming into this process that I wanted to take more from the experience than just new business knowledge. In terms of my own personal growth, a big piece of what I am looking to accomplish is further developing my communication and leadership skills. The Accelerate Leadership Center (ALC) provides many opportunities to do so. Through individual leadership coaching, creative workshops, and many other programs, the ALC teaches leadership through building empathy. I am excited to take advantage of this resource, and I plan to work a lot with them throughout the year.”
The Tepper School also comes with a reputation for teaching excellence and academic rigor – one grounded in a data-driven approach to decision-making. However, data alone doesn’t magically reveal trends and benefits. It requires skilled MBAs to influence decisions by framing data’s value through simplifying its intricacies, analyzing the cost-benefits, and delivering memorable anecdotes. That starts with being able to read people, earn trust, and build relationships. Filling this divide between quant mastery and emotional savvy is Tepper’s sweet spot, says Cory Weeks, a first-year who evolved from being an engineer into a product manager.
“Growing up, my father instilled an analytical mindset in me – if I wanted something, I had to explain why I needed it, or how it would benefit me or us,” Weeks explains. “My mother instilled in me deep empathy, and how to care and appreciate others. Both of these traits are important in business; you need to not only tackle complicated problems analytically, but you often need to do so with a team that you can work with and through. I think the final important ingredient is the knowledge on how to execute – and that formal knowledge is what I hope to gain at Tepper.”
QUANT PROGRAMMING GEARED TO POETS
The program’s unique proposition also struck Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, who joined Tepper as its new dean this summer after undergoing over 50 interviews. “I feel very strongly that the Tepper School has the best positioning among business schools. It is all about skills-based learning. It’s about big data and being at the center of a university that has the DNA of being highly cooperative with strong schools of computer science and performing arts. Everybody is talking at every university about how important it is to be interdisciplinary. It is not something that I will have to work really hard to make happen because it is part of the culture here and that is something that is incredibly important.”
Alas, Tepper is often saddled with the dreaded “quant” tag – the residue of a forward-thinking integration of technology and the larger university’s world-renowned programming in computer sciences, engineering, and applied sciences. Still, the program is quite accessible to MBAs with a liberal arts background. Just ask David Baars. He studied economics and worked in product marketing before landing at Google after earning his Tepper MBA last spring.
“I can attest to the fact that you don’t need to come from a quantitative background to be successful at Tepper. The quant classes at Tepper are incredibly accessible, the support from professors and TAs is impressive, and your classmates with technical backgrounds are eager to assist their non-technical classmates. Collaboration and teamwork at Tepper are essential. If you don’t come from a quantitative or technical background, you’ll have all of the support systems that you need to be successful at the school.
A FINANCIER, A NEUROSCIENTIST, AND AN ENGINEER
That will come in handy for the Class of 2022, a 141-member cohort hailing from 17 countries. The class includes Tom Mitchell, a Brooklyn native and PwC manager who worked in anti-financial crime compliance. Elizabeth Barnard has already made one of the most difficult transitions. Majoring in Communications at Boston College, she turned herself into a financial consultant in municipal bonds and taxes. If you want an example of grace under pressure, check out Arnie Shivram. His first assignment out of college? He had to design a materials testing lab and product testing program for an automotive manufacturing plant.
“The initiative had been floundering before I took over,” he explains. “However, I was able to successfully set up the laboratory on schedule, train a team of laboratory technicians, and negotiate testing agreements with our customer. This project required me to step into a wide variety of areas that I had little exposure to before and boosted my confidence.”
Dani Grodsky brings an Ivy League pedigree to Tepper, holding a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University. She applied that degree to a working at ideas42, a non-profit that addressed social issues using behavioral science.
“In my time at the organization, I was able to help build and lead some of our first projects in our domestic health and machine learning portfolios,” she explains. “I am proud to say that many of these early projects showed success – like helping over 100,000 people (and counting) learn that they might be at high risk for type-2 diabetes – and am excited to see the continued positive impact these domains will continue to have in the future.”
STANDING OUT IN MILITARY SERVICE
At Tepper, Grodsky plans to combine her science and health background with product development and management tools. “Throughout my career, I have worked to understand and influence decision-making around health in critical areas such as childhood nutrition and diabetes prevention. I believe that digital health, when powered by personalized data and an understanding of human decision-making, has started and will continue to be a groundbreaking tool for improving health behavior on a massive scale. Post-MBA, my goal is to work in product management supporting the development and commercialization of mission-driven digital health tools.
Jack Guda has already made the jump to product management – and he did it after a four-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He isn’t alone in distinguishing himself in military service. David Chang considers his defining moment to be when he earned his Ranger Tab a Fort Benning.
“Ranger school is a 2-month long leadership and tactics course where soldiers are challenged physically and mentally to exhaustion,” Chang explains. “I learned how to motivate and inspire others at their worst while I was also at my worst. I can apply the leadership principles and mental resilience gained from this experience to any aspect of my life.”
Our Meet the Class of 2022 Series
* To read profiles of 11 first-years, go to Page 3.
* To read an interview with the MBA director, go to Page 2.