What I Learned this Semester – Final Essay
Keep an Open Mind
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible," claimed Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society in 1895.[[i]] While serving as an extreme example of ignorance through close-mindedness, I almost fell victim to a similar trap at the beginning of the Managing People and Organizations course. I will be the first to admit my premature skepticism as I wondered what I could possibly learn about managing people and organizational behavior that I did not already experience throughout the course of my professional life in the military. Truth be told, I learned a great deal from the course—most importantly, that the learning never stops. My perpetual goal throughout the course of my MBA studies, beyond getting good grades, is to take away valuable information that will help me grow and succeed as a leader and manager. I constantly ask myself how a certain topic can be useful in my growth and how it can help build upon my prior experiences. A tool by which I gauge the lessons learned with the most profound personal impact is to reflect upon those that remain at the forefront of my thoughts. While all of the themes in the course provided value, “Ethics” and “Management” served as the most memorable topics and will undoubtedly be instrumental in achieving future success in business.
“I refuse to see a pimp in the mirror in the morning when I shave.”[[ii]]
Peter Drucker described ethics through the “mirror test,” in that it requires you to ask yourself, “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”[[iii]] It is comforting to think that I will refuse to be part of an organization that might cause the mirror test to fail, but MP&O gave me some tangible ideas of how I can ensure success. Ethics is a topic that I not only connect with in learning, but also embrace the greatest sense of obligation in serving. As future MBAs, managers and leaders, we will all have the opportunity to help correct a negative stigma in business, caused by self-serving and reprehensible scandals. While individually it will be difficult to realize a measurable change, together we can move the needle toward restoring faith and good ethical practice in business. As a recent Harvard Business School graduate explained, “Fingers are now pointed at M.B.A.’s and we, as a class, have a real opportunity to come together and set a standard as business leaders.”[[iv]]
Serving As an Officer in the United States Navy, ethics discussions have been a regular part of my professional life for the last nine years. It was easy for me to discuss the implications of ethics in the military; however, translating these issues into Corporate America was challenging. The course readings, class discussion and Miles Arnone served as a dynamic and powerful combination to broaden my understanding of an under-emphasized concept and apply it to a business setting. I wholeheartedly agree that ethics cannot be taught, especially at this point in our lives. Wharton School professor Tom Donaldson explained, “We can’t inoculate students who have been inclined toward unethical behavior for the past 20 some odd years.”[[v]] What I did learn through our discussions is that we can learn to “build business systems that minimize the opportunity and temptation to behave unethically.”[[vi]] I now fully realize the importance of understanding, watching for and not tolerating bad ethical practices in business. Because of a lack of transparency, issues often require examination at deeper levels of granularity before a bad practice comes to light. In the proliferation of good ethical tradition, it is important to understand practices throughout the value chain, beyond one’s own respective business unit. Setting high ethical standards and consistency in decision making with all partners is the only way to measure tangible results and remain true to ethical sanctity. Acquiescence to unethical behavior at any level can result in the failure of a mission and can seriously harm the greater organization. “Know yourself, be consistent and know your partners.”[[vii]]
“All managers lead, but not all leaders manage.”[[viii]]
The management topic forced me to undergo a significant amount of introspection. For five years, I led sailors during peacetime and into harm’s way in the Navy. I felt that I learned a great deal about what traits define successful leaders by assuming a tremendous amount of responsibility at a young age. I was responsible for orchestrating the operations of a warship with 450 sailors and 400 embarked marines. At times, my leadership involved the safety and lives of hundreds of personnel on a five hundred million-dollar ship. Other times it involved leading a team of highly trained sailors into potentially hostile environments as we boarded suspect vessels on the high seas, searching for drugs, weapons and terrorists. When reflecting upon the role of the person in charge of any unit in the military, most would agree that the association is with a leader, not a manager.
Fast forward to day two of orientation at Boston College. While standing in an odd-shaped circle at the beginning of our Outward Bound experience on Thompson Island, Bob Radin gave his opening remarks. To paraphrase, he proclaimed that regardless of our background we are no longer leaders, but rather a team. I tried to bite my tongue, as leadership was my comfort zone. Was he trying to say that I needed to find a new way of doing business in order to succeed in this environment? His claim was not only necessary for success during our team-building evolutions, but it served as a valid personal reminder that I had a great deal to learn over the next few years.
What I reflected deeply upon over the course of the subsequent seven weeks is whether or not I was truly an effective leader. By nature, a manager works in a leadership capacity, but a truly effective leader is one that manages well; and many fall short. In 2005, the Department of Defense sent representatives from each branch of our armed forces to Toyota and their “University” of lean-thinking philosophy.[[ix]] I am a firm believe that many leaders in the military get too wrapped up in the emotional and inspirational aspects of the job and neglect the necessity of acting as an efficient manager. As military leaders, we have a tremendous amount to learn from successful corporations in the sense of efficiency. The Toyota experiment was extremely rewarding and had a profound impact on the leaders that were able to gain some valuable management insight. Management is definable and measurable; it is “how we make sure the job gets done.”[[x]] Military leaders must make time-sensitive, difficult decisions in the face of adversity. They must lead and inspire those under their charge, but should also think on their feet and manage resources efficiently. As I prepare to return to the service and serve the three-year payback for my MBA, I will focus on establishing and realizing measurable goals as a manager, while continuing to inspire as a leader. Once I do transition to the civilian world, these skills will be invaluable in achieving success.
Value Proposition of an MBA
Warren Buffett once candidly remarked, “The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.”[[xi]] Seeing an opinion such as this from arguably the most successful business mogul alive does not make one feel incredibly reassured about investing over $80,000 in an MBA program. Sanjay Chakrabarty, the 35-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Mobiapps, confessed that he has learned more in the years since earning his MBA at Carnegie Mellon than during his education.[[xii]] Eighty-nine percent of recruiters that responded to a Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive business-school survey responded that MBA graduates could greatly improve their chances of being hired with better communication and interpersonal skills.[[xiii]] With all of the evidence pointed to business schools focusing on the “wrong” qualities, how can they improve the quality of their programs? Once a skeptic, I am now a firm believer that courses such as “Managing People and Organizations” have immeasurable value and should be embraced by all students.
MBA students will invariably be exposed to core competency courses that provide quantitative analytical framework for requisite business skills. I’m certain that learning how to record changes in accounts receivables to reconcile net income from cash from operations will inevitably serve its purpose. However, communicative, interpersonal and other “soft skills” have exponentially greater value, in that they will serve their purpose throughout the course of one’s professional growth and service. Being able to derive a number is not nearly as important being able to describe, analyze and communicate the importance of such a number. For my $80,000 investment, I want to understand such themes as Core Values, Individual Differences, Organizational Culture, Motivation and Communication, and be able to add value to an organization through applying their meaning. The MP&O course was a thought-provoking and valuable medium to translate these ideas. Writing papers such as this and emphasizing the importance of class participation exemplify the effort by BC and Professor Radin in improving our interpersonal skills and appreciation for organizational behavior.
The Bottom Line
As stated explicitly in the course objectives, by the end of the course, students should understand how human behavior influences effectiveness at any level in an organization and in most life situations. I feel confident that I made tremendous strides in this course in furthering my appreciation of human behavior in the eyes of a leader and manager. The course emphasized the important and all-too-often neglected fundamentals of sound leadership and management. The secret to great success is “painful and demanding practice and hard work.”[[xiv]] We will not leave the Carroll School of Management as extraordinary managers, but we will depart with a set of fresh perspectives and tools on which to build success through hard work. I feel energized to better myself and make a measurable impact within an organization. This course provided me with powerful insight and useful tools to keep leaning forward toward my goals. An MBA experience, just like every endeavor in life, is what you make of it. Those who “stay hungry and stay foolish”[[xv]] will realize unparalleled success. Those who choose to close their mind will be left behind.
[i] “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Quote by Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society in 1895. http://www.mendosa.com/openmind.htm (Accessed: 14 October 2009)
[ii] Drucker, Peter, “Managing Yourself.” Best of HBR, 1999.
[iv] Wayne, Leslie, “A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality.” The New York Times, May 30, 2009.
[v] Patsuris, Penelope, “Can Integrity Be Taught?” Forbes.com, October 4, 2002.
[vii] “Know yourself, be consistent and know your partners.” Integrity and Ethics Presentation by Miles Arnone, Managing Director, Technology Group, American Capital on Sept 11, 2009.
[viii] “All managers lead, but not all leaders manage” Management Discussion by Bob Radin, PhD, Managing People & Organizations (MB 712, Section 2) on October 14, 2009.
[ix] Spector, Mike and Chon, Gina, “Toyota University Opens Admission to Outsiders.” WSJ Online, March 5, 2007.
[x] Management Discussion by Bob Radin, PhD, Managing People & Organizations (MB 712, Section 2) on October 14, 2009.
[xi] “The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.” Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway.
[xii] Pfeffer, Jeffrey, “Only the Bulldogs Survive.” Business 2.0, September 2006.
[xiii] Alsop, Ronald, “How to Get Hired.” WSJ Online, September 22, 2004.
[xiv] Colvin, Geoffrey, “What it Takes to be Great.” Fortune, October 30, 2006.
[xv] Jobs, Steve, Commencement Address to Stanford University. Reprinted in Fortune, September 5, 2005.