Leaders in Action: The Case for Setting People Up for Success

By Tyler Kearn ‘15

Tyler Kearn '15

Tyler Kearn '15

In the last issue of ChiBus there was an article headlined “Leaders in Action: A Case for Everybody’s a Winner”. It critiqued the expansion of the LEAD program’s leadership challenges, claiming that including more students is diluting the value of the program and leading students to a false sense of entitlement. I could not disagree more.

First, the facts: this year the LEAD program expanded upon the Leadership Challenge and Leadership in Crisis by creating three new events (The Hard Sell, The Day, and Change Management). This resulted in the number of students participating from 220 last year to 380 this year – meaning 160 more students were able to participate in one of the events.

I think that this is a great thing. As I understand it, there were still some students who wanted to participate this year but were unable to, and I hope in future years they further expand the programming to the point where everyone who wants to be involved can be.

We all come to business school for different reasons, but for most students one of the top objectives is to learn new skills that will help us be successful in business and life. If these programs are of value to students, then the school should make them available to everyone who wishes to take advantage of them.

To put it another way – we’re all paying lots of money to be here, and if I’m paying $100,000+ I want to get every last useful thing I can out of the Booth experience. To be told students can’t participate because the LEAD program doesn’t have the bandwidth to accommodate everyone I can accept, but if I were to be told I couldn’t join because they want the programming to be exclusive I would be livid!

If these challenges do help set students up for success down the line by giving them a taste of what it takes to successfully tackle C-level decisions, it’s in Booth’s best interest to involve as many students as possible. Better equipped students will equal more successful alumni, which in turn leads to a more successful business school in the long run.

In the article, the author claims that expanding on the challenges offered hurts the image of the program for alumni because the selection process has become less competitive. This is ridiculous. Putting on more events means involving more alumni, bringing them back to campus and having them interact with current students. This can only be a good thing for the school and alumni relations. Plus, when I worked one of these events, all the alumni I interacted with seemed impressed by the quality of the students.

Another argument is made that expanding these activities takes away from the value of including the programs on one’s resume with a bullet such as, “Peer-nominated to represent cohort in 2014 Leadership in Action challenge.” This is true, if the people reading your resume realize this (which they do not). But putting this on your resume had very minimal value to begin with, and if this bullet point was the difference between someone getting an interview over someone else, more is wrong with the recruiting process than I want to admit to myself.

I also object to the peer selection process to begin with as a way to identify top students. The people who are nominated and get the most votes from their peers get into these events. This is early on in the quarter, before people have had a chance to really meet many outside of their LEAD groups. Plus, people are not allowed to campaign for nominations (though at least in my year, that did not stop a few people from doing it anyway). So this is literally a popularity contest – it measures relative popularity amongst LEAD squads and students’ ability to quickly grow their social circle. Maybe this is a valuable thing to measure, but I personally do not believe that social popularity is the right criteria for identifying the top talent in a class. Just look at your high school Prom King or Homecoming Queen – they were voted to be royalty by their peers, but were they the most successful people at your reunion?

Finally, I believe that the whole idea that this change perpetuates an entitlement culture – the thinking that “Everyone’s a Winner” – is wrong, at least in regards to Booth. There may be a societal trend towards this way of thinking at large (way beyond the scope of this article), but at Booth there is far too much competition and rejection for anyone to feel this way for long. Even those who are very successful at recruiting still face a large amount of rejection, and if someone does make it through recruiting unscathed there are plenty more competitions to engage in and opportunities to be turned down (co-chair positions, leading a random walk, you name it…).

Maybe everybody at Booth does win in the end, but along the way it sure doesn’t feel like it. Why do you think that Booth has such a supportive, pay it forward culture? Because in this environment, it is necessary. But, if you have gone through Booth getting everything you wanted, not getting rejected for a thing, send me a message. You can buy me a drink.