Leading “Beyond Yourself”: 5 Haas Experiences to Achieve Leadership Nirvana
By Jo Mackness, Executive Director, CRB
We talk a lot here at Berkeley-Haas about our defining principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always. It’s the Beyond Yourself principle that gets me the most excited.
What does it mean to lead “beyond yourself”? While it may sound like some form of leadership nirvana, we believe it’s about taking a longer-term view in our decisions and actions; putting the interests of others above our own; building a sense of trust among and between the individuals and organizations in our sphere of influence; and simply finding solutions that “raise all boats” instead of just one or two.
Traditionally, b-schools have hammered home classic leadership competencies (think delegating, managing politics), but more recently, we see a trend toward employing an external focus, taking a longer-term perspective, and managing not only assets but also relationships and context. The “Beyond Yourself” principle exemplifies this, and is the cornerstone of responsible and sustainable business leadership.
With this in mind, the CRB recently engaged star alum Libby Reder to dig deeper and ask fellow alums about how Haas instills—and alums achieve—this heightened leadership state. We boiled it down to five things that Haas/students can do to prepare for leading “beyond” themselves:
1. Focus on business fundamentals beyond the core: While the entire core delivers a strong foundation, Haas alumni have highly recommended a few additional courses that specifically gave them an extra edge: Managerial Accounting, Marketing Analytics, Financial Information Analysis and Financial Modeling. These courses allow for a deeper level of business understanding that can enable managers to identify and explain opportunities for change as well as develop the credibility and buy-in required for the implementation of impact initiatives.
Similarly, in a report entitled Business Skills for a Changing World: An Assessment Of What Global Companies Need From Business Schools, Net Impact and the World Environment Center suggest that “Inside-out” skill sets are extremely important when driving organizational change.
These “inside-out” skill sets include an understanding of:
-companies’ and organizations’ actual products and services and how they are made
-the changing nature of strategic planning
-the role of global management systems
-risk mitigation and cost savings
-the relationship of sustainability to science and innovation
-the fundamentals of project management, finance and marketing, and
-the development of newer accounting models.
2. Learn to value difference and how to think differently: While a great deal of talk these days is about all of the different methods of thinking—critical, design, systems—it’s “meta cognition” or the ability to deliberately move among various thinking paradigms that helps us to think beyond ourselves to uncover new solutions and become a valuable change-maker within an organization.
Promoting cognitive diversity at Haas starts with embracing your carefully-crafted (yet seemingly random) initial study group, could include joining a new club (one whose membership doesn’t include students exactly like you), and embracing the Dean’s Speaker Series—especially those topics that may seem tangential for you. For example, I know everyone who saw Salman Kahn speak on the future of online education last year at Haas (and the 32,000+ people that have viewed the video since on YouTube) gleaned something new and different from his engaging talk.
Haas courses that support this notion of thinking beyond oneself to glean new perspectives include Problem Finding, Problem Solving and New Product Development.
3. Find ways to practice and test out what you learn: Current Haas students and alums we spoke to universally underscored the importance of going beyond the experiential learning requirement and identifying additional ways to hone skills in a low-risk environment, like engaging in real-world projects through an independent study, entering a business plan competition (e.g., the Global Social Venture Competition) or tackling a challenge for an organization through an academic fellowship.
Some recent opportunities offered through the CRB include traveling to Bentonville, Arkansas, to research and write a case study on Walmart’s Sustainability Index, conducting a social impact analysis for Haas-bred crowdfunding leader Indiegogo and developing and presenting portfolio management ideas to the Haas Socially Responsible Investment Fund’s Investment Advisory Committee.
In all of these examples, students got to experience what leading beyond themselves felt like in the real world—how challenging it was to influence Walmart’s 3,000+ buyers, or measure equal opportunity funding, or manage financial alongside social returns.
4. Leverage courses and opportunities to hone your interpersonal skills: According to a recent report by BSR (formerly Business for Social Responsibility), “Effective leadership at all levels of an organization—from front-line change agents to senior management—will increasingly depend on a sophisticated ability to identify, engage, and incorporate the needs and interests of a diverse range of internal and external stakeholders.” Haas alums we interviewed unanimously and wholeheartedly agreed and stressed the importance of taking courses such as Negotiations, Leading People and Power & Politics. Even a course like International Business Development (culminating in three weeks with three teammates working often long hours in an international client’s “closet” conference room) is fertile ground for honing influencing, listening and multicultural understanding skills that are critical for “beyond yourself” leadership.
5. Develop (or maintain) deep domain expertise: We see a trend now wherein many students come to Haas with the intention of leveraging their existing domain expertise—be it in water, social entrepreneurship, or finance—to achieve a deeper level of impact. Our conversations with alums confirmed that either maintaining deep knowledge of a particular sector or functional area or further developing it, is a smart idea.
Most students are unlikely to end up as a generalist in “Responsible Business” post graduation; alums recommend deepening expertise in one or two areas aligned with your desired career path. For me, this was professional services; before business school I was a consultant serving primarily professional services firms (e.g., I worked on the Pricewaterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand merger) and during business school I continued to work on projects with professional services firms. This allowed me the credibility to launch Ernst & Young’s Corporate Responsibility efforts post graduation and build programs like the firm’s CR Fellows Program that send high performing managers to work with high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging economies as a way to catalyze long-term growth.
We welcome your thoughts, ideas and additions to the five we’ve shared here—from your own business school or real world “beyond yourself” experiences.