It snowed today. Five inches. I decided a snow day was needed and headed out to the cross country trails with skis and snowshoes in tow. Lest anyone think this indicates a smooth ride through the spring term, I’d like to point out that “snowed” is the appropriate metaphor.
I’m now auditing two classes. I’ve already mentioned Comparative Models of Leadership. I added Social Entrepreneurship this week. Monday and Tuesday afternoons are taken with classes. The typical classroom at Tuck is what can best be described as half an arena. The professor occupies center stage, while the tiers of long, curved tables and student chairs rise to the rear. Students post name cards in front of their space. Class participation counts. I am the only one permitted in the last row.
I’m impressed by how collegial and relaxed the atmosphere is in the classrooms. I’ve heard trenchant comments and summaries. And I’ve also heard a few “sorry I haven’t read the case” or “I zoned out.” This is not The Paper Chase. But don’t let that fool you. Each class gets a stack of cases and articles to read often in addition to a textbook. I am a fairly fast and carnivorous reader, but find even two classes worth of assignments daunting to read. Of course, I have a few other projects on which I’m working. But excuses won’t fly for long in this setting. Expectations run high.
I’ve been taking copious notes during class. At first I did not bring my tablet PC with me. But despite each professor’s admonition most students have laptops blazing for the duration. So I’m joining the bonfire. It saves having to transcribe notes.
The cases are the most intriguing part of the reading. It reinforces the power of telling a good personal story that’s true. The ones on Margaret Thatcher and Orit Gadiesh (Bain & Co.) stand out. Both are intelligent, hardworking women, who out-studied everyone around them. They were exceptional relationship builders. They did their homework and mastered the details. And they had relentless energy, outworking everyone. I was struck by the parallels to Jack Welch’s 4E’s and a P method of choosing C-level executives at GE: Energy, Energizing, decision Edge, Execution and Passion.
There’s a surprise ending. Our teacher ran an exercise where we listed five words about Thatcher, a leader we knew and admired, and what we think makes a good leader. We exchanged papers between each of the three steps, so each piece of paper had three opinions on the three questions. The result? Only three words out of 150 matched (There are about 30 students in the class.) The conclusion: the traits and skills that make a good leader are very subjective, Mr. Welch notwithstanding.
I’d like to see a harder look at what makes a bad leader. There may be more agreement on what not to be.