IBD teams hear from their peers on how to manage through uncertain times
Our lives changed drastically in the month of March when California residents and students were told to shelter in place due to the increasing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. All UC Berkeley and Haas classes – including the IBD program – transitioned to remote only, and IBD project travel scheduled for May was put on hold.
In spite of these disruptive changes, our spring semester FTMBA IBD project teams continued to work diligently and remotely on consulting projects with international clients. The current group of IBD students is now preparing to offer their project solutions to clients at the end of the semester in early May. In talking with these outstanding IBD students, we increasingly came to appreciate the life experiences they brought to their project teams – and how helpful these can be in a time of crisis. Recently we invited a few current and former IBD students to share their experiences of leading through difficult times. As IBD Faculty Director Whitney Hischier put it, “There are so many students in this class who have impressive backgrounds and have spent their careers working in uncertainty. We can really learn a lot from each other.”
Jenny Nixon, ‘20 MBA candidate and 2019 IBD Team Lead
Jenny Nixon, a second year FTMBA student and a 2019 IBD Team Lead, spoke to the IBD class about her experience of leading through adversity. Before coming to Berkeley Haas, Jenny was a combat medic and a US Army Officer and Commander in charge of leading Blackhawk Helicopter missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jenny shared with the current IBD Team Leads this advice from her background of leading military teams:
- Know your people. Know their situation and how decisions impact them and what is on their mind.
- Believe in and convey the importance in what they are doing.
- Be more flexible. Be able to talk one on one with your team members and pivot if they need a different experience.
She also had words of wisdom on what NOT to do as a leader:
- Don’t be invulnerable and act like you are unaffected.
- Don’t pretend that everything is ok when it’s not; face the problem directly.
- Be open to hearing concerns and letting people vent, but don’t let it become an echo chamber for negativity.
In assessing the project experience in front of each IBD student, Jenny emphasized that “more than ever, it is important to focus on the task at hand as this is an opportunity to help an organization right now, during a very difficult time globally, in a real way.”
Geoff Easterling, ‘21 MBA Candidate and 2020 IBD Team Member
Geoff Easterling, a current IBD Team Member, talked to the IBD class about a particularly tough time he experienced in leading his team as a Fire Direction Officer in Afghanistan in 2014-2015. After thinking that they had reached the end of their overseas deployment, Geoff and a small group of soldiers were directed to remain in Afghanistan for an additional three months. Geoff managed to help his team get over this sudden and disappointing change far from home. He and his group found renewed relevance in their work as a unit, forming a bond that Geoff cherishes to this day.
Josh Raines, ‘21 MBA Candidate and 2020 IBD Team Lead
Josh Raines, a current IBD Team Lead, spent time as a senior consultant with Deloitte Consulting LLP. He worked with many organizations involved in global health issues, including the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention during the Ebola and Zika crises. Josh mentioned to the IBD class that in times of uncertainty, he recommends reverting to established frameworks and systems:
“If paired with what you know to be true (the facts), these systems allow you to not only to feel in control but to actually be in control. It’s these times of uncertainty where integrity and commitment to the team despite obstacles really comes to the fore and makes all the difference. Ultimately, this will prove to be an incredible and valuable learning experience.”
Emily Lapham, ‘21 MBA Candidate and 2020 IBD Team Lead
Emily Lapham is a current IBD Team Lead. Prior to coming to Berkeley Haas, she worked as an Emergency Management Senior Analyst for the Cadmus Group – a consulting firm focused on homeland security and environmental issues. Emily talked to the IBD class about the constant “exercising” her Cadmus Group team would do in order to prepare for times when everyday assumptions were no longer possible:
“I would advise Team Leads to think through different paths towards the same objective. This requires clarifying what the high-level objective truly is for the client. And then, instead of dwelling on the fact that we are seemingly falling on a “Plan B” (or C or D or E…), reframe it as another path to support a larger objective. For example, is it to explore a potential new business line or is it to assess diversification of revenue, and exploring a new business line was a means of doing that? If it is the latter, in a time of uncertainty or crisis, focusing on the larger objective (in this case, diversifying revenue) provides space for creativity.”
Emily admits that she is an eternal optimist, and she firmly believes that it is during times like these that there are opportunities to do a lot of good. She wants her peers to remember that if they can “think through how our clients can best serve their customers at this moment,” it will “help make them stronger in serving non-traditional or new groups of clients going forward.”
IBD Faculty Mentors
In addition to our IBD students, the IBD Faculty Mentors also spoke up during the recent conversation about how to manage through adversity. They emphasized that this current experience will be rich with learning opportunities for MBAs. “Step up now,” said Faculty Mentor Olaf Groth, “and rest assured that employers will want to hear about how you handled yourself and your team during these tough times. Resilience leadership is a highly prized skill.” Olaf concluded by telling the class: “There are good horizons beyond every crisis. Let’s all saddle up!”