Week 8! It is remarkable to think that we have only had 8 weeks of the course so far, it seems like I have far too many memories to fit into only 8 weeks. Flipping that around however, it’s also amazing to think that we are already approaching the end of SEM1. Time flies when you’re having fun, and, apparently, when you’re rampaging through a labyrinth of modules, workshops, projects and deadlines.
Since my last blog, I have experienced some significant highs and lows on the course. The highs are easier to succinctly describe but perhaps provide less meaty and real content for reflection. They have come in the form of positive feedback from respected professors on work I have produced and the development of social ties within the group. The lows, on the other hand, provide for, perhaps, more interesting discussion and for better learning. My lows relate to realizations that have forced me to re-frame my view of the MBA and what I will take from it.
When I decided to come on the UCD Smurfit MBA programme, I assumed that the majority of candidates would be fiery go-getters, all driven to compete healthily and push the envelope of what can be achieved. I also assumed that we would work in teams where everyone would want to get the best results possible. In short, I assumed that people on the course would be just like me. Well, we know what they say about assumptions… The reality of an MBA is far from my mental image of academic and project jousting. The reality incorporates a variety of candidates with a multitude of different personalities and goals for the course.
I have always worked in environments which rewarded and promoted those who rolled up their sleeves and got things done and this has reinforced that mode of behaviour to the extent that it is has been my default mode of engagement. While that behaviour can drive great progress, it isn’t applicable to every environment and every group of people. In many situations, it may be more important to bring the team with you or to analyse the environment exhaustively before acting. By challenging us to work with various people and on various projects the MBA teaches us, in a very real way, how to engage with different personality types and how to step outside our standard mode of engagement. This provides an enormous, if uncomfortable, learning opportunity.
The day I found out that the rest of my team did not want to achieve first class honours in the course was a day I will never forget. It was profoundly baffling how people could not aim for the best possible result. I became dizzy trying to understand it. It took quite a bit of re-framing to accept that the grade of result from an MBA is not the most important measurement of the quality of the experience gained on the course. The breadth of experience and the skills developed that round out the individual are more important.
All of the candidates on the course are high-calibre but their primary strengths lie in various different areas. By exposure to each other’s strengths and weaknesses and through honest feedback from self and others in Leadership Development (LDP) sessions, a mirror is held up showing us how we engage and the benefits and risks of our styles. Through this challenging process the quiet analyst learns to step up, the conciliatory player learns to focus on task and the dominant go-getter learns to move with the team. Interestingly, this learning is not explicitly targeted at developing better influencing skills but that is the effect. The LDP objectives pursued relate to team development and team dynamic enhancement but will translate to an improved ability to affect and lead others.
As the Christmas exams begin to loom on the horizon it is useful to note that the pressure we experience as part of the MBA is essential to keep the personal learning real. Working on our behaviours and interactions is kept relevant and effective as we do so under pressure. The pressure calls out the true selves we will call on under fire when we are back out leading industry. Sharpening our tools for those situations is the greatest benefit the UCD Smurfit MBA can offer. So, here’s to pressure, development, the challenges behind us and the challenges to come.
FT MBA 2014.