Earning an MBA had been a dream of mine for many years. I valued the education, the relationships, and the brand. Now that I’m in the home stretch of my second year, it’s interesting to look back on the most transformative lessons from my first year.
While the knowledge gained on topics like pricing strategy, micro-economic drivers, and multiple regression analysis is critical — and gaining a more holistic vision of business has been invaluable — some of the most important lessons I’ve learned are considered “soft skills.”
Here are a few that readily come to mind:
1. It takes a team.
The strength of any organization (whether it be an established corporation, a start-up, or your own family unit) is far greater than the sum of its parts. For each of us to achieve our potential, individually or collectively, it will take a strong vision and strategy, a healthy dose of hard work, and a concerted team effort.
I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by high-caliber team members who have strengthened and made me better. This includes my team at work, my family, and my classmates. They have reminded me that it’s not the team with the best players that wins, but rather the players that have the best team.
2. Careful listening and counseling generates the best results.
There is so much we can learn from those around us, and I’ve found that some of the smartest people I know take the time to listen, observe, and soak in knowledge. They don’t feel the pressure to always have the answer (but they know where to find it). They aren’t afraid to ask questions. They listen carefully to responses and are always willing to share what they’ve learned.
While the most opinionated people may sometimes be perceived to know the most, this is rarely the case. Rather, the people who listen and learn are the ones who often end up on top.
At Wharton, I have the privilege to interact with and learn from an incredible group of people. There have been times in class when I’ve hesitated to raise my hand because I’ve wanted to hear the thoughts of others. The diversity of thought, experience, perspective, and knowledge has been inspiring, and has motivated me to think a little deeper and push myself a little harder.
3. Leadership is learned.
Leaders — whether formalized through position or title, or informal through influence and impact — have the opportunity and responsibility to make a positive impact on individuals and the world. Certainly, there are those who are more naturally gifted leaders than others. But even for “natural” leaders, those leadership muscles need to be exercised and trained in order to achieve peak performance.
Leadership is learned as it is practiced and experienced. Drawing an analogy to sports, some level of natural ability is a prerequisite for any up-and-coming star. But without intense training and effort, even the most gifted athletes would never achieve their stated objectives or maximize their abilities.
I’ve learned the most about leadership when I’ve been required to step up as a leader. I’ve also learned valuable lessons by interacting closely with leaders I admire. After reflecting on these leadership lessons, I’ve realized that the leaders I admire most are those who practice the principle of “servant leadership” and are constantly looking to use their leadership platform to lift others, rather than leveraging their platform to elevate themselves. They lead by example and they lead from the front. In addition, I’ve found that the best leaders are also the best followers. They are a steady influence and stay true to their organizational mission, along with their personal values.
4. Ultimately, it’s about people.
Life is busy. We are constantly being pulled in a myriad of directions. The digital age gives us unlimited knowledge at our fingertips, but also keeps us continually tethered to the demands of others. This makes it all too easy to get stuck in the “thick of thin things.” It’s important to remember what really matters. For example, as important as it may seem to ace that test, it is far more important to help a struggling classmate. Or, as much as you’d like to cruise through that client project on your own, it’s much better to bring along a colleague to benefit their personal development.
The reason for this is simple: ultimately, it’s about people. It’s about building relationships that are rooted in confidence, competence, and trust. With that vision in mind, we will go the extra mile to bring others along with us. We won’t be so caught up in the business of the moment that we miss the opportunity to be builders of people and character.
— Aaron Jacob
Posted: April 30, 2019