This year the Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) office introduced a series of new of Leadership challenges along with the tried and true challenges from years past, and dubbed the suite “Leaders in Action.” These events include Leadership Challenge, The Hard Sell, The Day, Change Management, Leadership in Crisis and Captivate Booth. This covers everything from individual public speaking to group simulation competitions. A pick-your-flavor of challenges, if you will.
The opportunity to participate in one of these challenges is considered highly coveted. Applications and peer-nominations are required. But how difficult is it, really? From personal observations and numbers from those in the know, last year for the class of 2015, there were 220* spots available for people to compete in the different challenges. This year, the available spots grew to 380. That’s roughly 65% of the class of 2016 participating in one of the challenges. How did this happen? The LEAD office and the administration used feedback from previous classes to identify that there are significant portions of Booth students that want to participate in these types of events (an unsurprising finding given that Booth is a top business school and its student body had to be both competitive and capable to be admitted). But just because you beg the babysitter for more ice cream, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
The increase in spots has turned the LEAD challenges from a luxury good to commodity experience for the first years. This is unfortunate for the administration, the LEAD office, and the second year LEAD facils, all who put in countless hours and hard work to prepare and run these events. It is additionally impactful on the public image these events conjure up for alumni and others who have participated previously when there was a more competitive selection process.
Furthermore, the increase in challenges mimics the growing trend of catering to the “Everyone’s a Winner” generation and prolonging the inevitable realization that this is simply not true. What’s the point of participating in one of these challenges? To see if you have what it takes to successfully navigate C-suite level decisions? Possibly practice some the of leadership skills discussed in the LEAD sessions? While it is important to practice these skills, how many of these students ultimately will get the intended lessons?
Regardless of the prescribed takeaways from these challenges and their absorption rates, there is an underlying current that there is space for everyone at the top, that everyone will walk away with a prize, and the option to stick this event on a resume. That is, “Peer-nominated to represent cohort in 2014 Leaders in Action challenge.” But when two-thirds of the class does it, it no longer holds the same value.
If the idea is really to hone leadership skills, LEAD may as well make participation in the challenges mandatory and then divide students over the different events. However, if the idea is to challenge top talent in front of alumni and others in the Booth community, then this increase in participation only dilutes that effect.
Either way, it would behoove the school to take a step back and evaluate the priorities of these challenges. Not just for the sake of maintaining its image, but for making the experience more meaningful for everyone involved.
Participation by the numbers:
* Captivate Booth was not part of the LEAD challenges in the 2013-2014 school year.