What I learned
There is a myth out there about business school: anyone who goes through the motions and receives their degree will leave with a killer job, be the boss and have a corner office. However, in Managing People and Organizations this semester, I have learned that I am not yet ready to be a manager. Nor should I expect a corner office, although I will take the killer job if available. I have been managed countless times; by my parents, by my coaches, by an excellent manager and by a terrible manager. Over the past 6 weeks, I have heard 6 successful executives speak and have read a total of 95 articles on a multitude of management related topics.[i] Unfortunately, this does not translate into me magically transforming into a great manager upon graduation.
So as an MBA candidate in the Carroll School of Management, where does this learning leave me? Well, at first it was a bit of a shock, especially coming from a small company where I was quickly promoted and thrust into a managerial role with under three years of experience. Did I return to school too soon? Will I be able to find an “MBA-worthy” position knowing this? Should I try and reach for a management position, even though I know I would benefit more from being under a great manager?
This course has helped me develop a more realistic view of what my MBA can do for me. The reality is, I am only twenty-five years old with three years of work experience, and I still have plenty of time to develop a successful brand management career. Instead of finding the right “MBA position”, I learned three areas to focus on over the next two years in school. First, I need to obtain greater self-knowledge to better understand how I work and what I can be passionate about. Second, I hope to find an excellent brand company to work for and gain as much experience as possible. Third, I want to find a great manager within that company to learn from.
For now, being a good subordinate at an amazing company is just as important as being a great manager in the future.[ii] After all, “it takes time to build a knowledge base, garner experience and earn a reputation.”[iii] Once I have accomplished the above, I will be ready to be a successful manager.
Getting to Know Me
I have to get to know my professional self better so that I will know when a company is a good fit for my personality and passions. The Core Values exercise was a good starting point in getting to know myself because it helped me to realize my deep seeded values and to analyze the effect of working at a company that was misaligned with those values. Knowing that respect and joy are my core values will be my “timeless guiding principles”[iv] moving forward. Additionally, I am a happy, extroverted, integrator (try saying that three times fast!) who learns through writing. What may sound like a lot of buzz words has actually helped me to define my personality as an employee and determine what I will look for in a company to make my work-life an enjoyable one.
It is also important to determine what kind of company and industry I can be passionate about. I have been passionate about doing good work since I graduated and entered the workforce in 2006, but have yet to be passionate about the actual work I am doing. I have felt real passion before. I played team sports my whole life, and nothing I have done professionally has ever compared to the excitement and satisfaction I got from playing soccer and basketball. For example, my senior year of high school, when I was captain of my soccer team, we went undefeated and won the first state championship our school had won in years. As the final seconds ticked down, we jumped into a huge celebratory pile and after receiving our trophy and medals ran a lap around the stadium to a standing ovation from what seemed like our entire town. That is a feeling I will keep with me forever, and what I strive to feel again in my professional life.
For the past two years, I was on the account side of an event marketing agency and worked primarily on a cell phone company account. Although the work I did provided me with plenty of opportunity to learn new skills, I could never get myself excited about the work itself. It was not the company or the events, it was me. Apparently, cell phones just don’t do it for me. It got to the point where I began to detest hearing ringtones (still do) because they reminded me of the work I found so boring.
Even having experienced years of dispassionate work, I was still in jeopardy of making the same mistake in the future. With the economy in turmoil and the MBA myth on my brain, I found myself thinking often of companies where I could make money. While the money would be great, I must consider what I will enjoy doing. As Steve Jobs said, “I am convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did…Keep looking. Don’t settle.”[v] I will heed his advice by “remembering that I’ll be dead soon” when making big decisions about my life, especially about my career.[vi] I know that I want to be in brand management when I graduate, but I am still trying to figure out what kind of brand I can get behind passionately so that my personality will shine through. “It’s common sense: happy people are more productive” and productive people are more successful.[vii]
Finding a Company that Fits
An excellent company is one that aligns with my core values, where I fit into the corporate culture, and where its reputation will be an asset to my career. “When people enter a company their morale is high. But, in as little as six months, the levels of morale can drop precipitously if employees feel undervalued.”[viii] I experienced this drop off in both of my previous jobs, and want to prevent this in my next one. The only way to achieve prolonged morale and motivation is for the companies that I choose to apply to meet my personal criteria.
First, “companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.”[ix] Those fixed values must align with my personal values of respect and joy above all else. Only when my values are aligned will the other qualifications come into play.
Second, the corporate culture must align with my personality. “If we understand and successfully cope (with a new cultural situation), then we feel exhilaration.” [x] I want to find a company where the culture feels natural to me, and I do not have to force myself to fake it. In my previous jobs, I worked for two companies at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. At my first job with a large market research firm, we worked at our client’s office so we always had to be buttoned up and essentially adapted to their culture instead of our own. In my next job, I worked at an extremely casual company that almost prided itself on its anti-corporate culture to the point where our CFO wore cargo shorts and flip-flops for a majority of the year and our holiday “bonuses” were given in the form of iTunes gift cards. I was able to work relatively comfortably within both cultures, but neither felt like a true fit.
Third, I want to find a company that will fit in with my career aspirations and will benefit my future. After speaking with both my career counselor and with Bob, my academic advisor, I am convinced that the smartest move I can make is to get a job with a large, well-respected brand management company and absorb as much experience and knowledge as possible.
“What makes a company a great place to work for? Good managers.”[xi]
I have, like other ambitious young people, high expectations of myself and others which is why I can be so tough on my leaders.[xii] I have had experience with both an excellent manager and a terrible manager, and the effect of the latter was great. “The quality of the relationships you have with your manager helps some of the most productive people get through those leaving moments.”[xiii] Obviously, I did not get through that moment, because here I am in business school striving to find an excellent company with great managers. For two years, I worked for a company and under a manager which were misaligned with my core values and with what I wanted from a company. One of Jack Welch’s lessons on motivation included, “Tell people to never allow themselves to become victims…They should go somewhere else if that’s how they feel.”[xiv] I am ready to go somewhere else, somewhere great.
“A great manager is someone who says, you come to work with me, and I’ll help you be as successful as possible; I’ll help you to grow.” [xv] One of my managers at my first job, Paul, was a veteran to the industry. Although, I was not his direct report he not only helped me improve in my day-to-day tasks, but he also introduced me to the right people and provided me with sound career advice. “Employees will tolerate a lot from a great manager.”[xvi] Paul pushed me far harder than the other manager discussed above, but I was willing to do it because I knew he was testing my limits and forcing me to grow. He kept me at the company longer than I would have otherwise stayed had he not been there. When I was ready to leave, he served as one of my references because he too knew it was time for me to move on to be happy. I still have lunch with him every few months to check in and discuss our careers.
I hope to work for another great manager in the future. I want to work for someone who is “great at teaching great people how [their] company works. Smart people who work on making everyone else in the organization smarter about the business.”[xvii] I am prepared to work as hard as I can and learn as much as possible from someone like this. Someone who will share their knowledge, make the most of my strengths, push my limits and challenge me to be the best I can be in my position. If I am fortunate enough to find an excellent company and work under great managers, I am confident that it will set me on the path to being a great manager myself one day.
Final Lessons from Managing People and Organizations
This course has taught me that, “a career is a long-range project.” [xviii] It has given me some definitive tools to make the right decisions about the next step in my career, a step which is a surprise to me. Before beginning my MBA, I thought I would leave here with a management position. I didn’t think it would be ok to consider otherwise, because that would be a waste of my MBA. Over the past six weeks, I have analyzed my previous work experience and I have thought more introspectively about myself as a professional and what I need from my next job than I have ever given myself the opportunity to do before. While I still have a lot to figure out as far as what I can be passionate about and narrowing down which companies I want to apply to, I am in a far better position to make those decisions than I was before this course.
Just for fun
Finally, I very much enjoyed the Dilbert cartoons at the beginning of each reading section and thought it would be appropriate to conclude my paper with a Dilbert joke I found online while writing: “You know you are an MBA when…. You start to feel sorry for Dilbert's boss.”[xix] I just hope I never end up working for or being like him.
[i] Radin, Bob. Final Thoughts PowerPoint Presentations. October 16, 2009.
[ii] Radin, Bob. Lecture: Management. October 13, 2009.
[iii] Alsop, Ronald. How to Get Hired. The Wall Street Journal. September 22, 2004.
[iv] Collins, James and Porras, Jerry. Building Your Company’s Vision. Harvard Business Review. September-October 1996
[v] Jobs, Steve. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Fortune. September 5, 2005.
[vi] Jobs, Steve. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Fortune. September 5, 2005.
[vii] Lashinsky, Adam. Back2Back Champs. Fortune. February 4, 2008.
[viii] Perk Place: The Benefits Offered by Google and Others May Be Grand, but They’re All Business. Knowledge Wharton. March 21, 2007.
[ix] Collins, James and Porras, Jerry. Building Your Company’s Vision. Harvard Business Review. September-October 1996.
Clayton and Shu, Kirstin. What is an
[xi] It’s the Manager Stupid. Fortune. October 25, 1999.
[xii] Taylor, Bill. Memo to a Young Leader: What Kind of Boss Are You? May 3, 2008.
[xiii] The Great Workplace Secret: It’s the Manager Stupid. Fortune. October 25, 1999.
[xiv] Hymowitz, Carrol and Murray, Matt. Management – Boss Talk: Raises and Praise or Out the Door. The Wall Street Journal. June 21, 1999.
[xv] It’s the Manager Stupid. Fortune. October 25, 1999.
[xvi] Drucker, Peter. What Makes an Effective Executive? Harvard Business Review. June 2004.
[xvii] Taylor, Bill. Memo to a Young Leader: What Kind of Boss Are You? May 3, 2008.
[xviii] The Trouble with MBAs. Fortune. April 30, 2007.