Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Moved to Tumblr

I have moved my blog to Tumblr. Click here to go to the new blog.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Getting Personal: Learning to be a leader (#3)

In my last two posts I talked about some struggles I've faced in my quest to be a better instructor. Well, before you think I’m a bumbling fool in the classroom, let me share some things I do that work well and help me connect with the students.  

If I described my teaching approach in one statement it would be: show them you care. I do this in four ways. First, on the first day of class I make it clear to my students that I am committed to their learning. While I certainly have expectations of my students, I let them know that they should also have expectations of me. These include being clear about my expectations for each assignment to ensure grading transparency, providing detailed feedback on rough drafts and responding to emails in a timely manner. As the semester continues, I make sure to follow through on these commitments. I regularly meet with students outside of office hours. I spend hours reading drafts and providing constructive feedback.

The second way I show them that I care is by treating them like adults. I don’t take attendance as I don’t want to force someone to be in class. If a student misses class often, it is highly unlikely that they will get a good grade anyway. Rather, I make the class interactive and grade participation. I want them to be there by choice, not by force. I tell the students that learning to speak in a large meeting setting is an important skill. If you don’t speak, then others not know if you are smart or stupid. And if the firm ever had to lay people off, the people whose contributions to the firm are unclear are likely to be the first ones to go.

Thirdly, I strive to present class material in an interesting and engaging manner. I use a variety of tactics: hands-on exercises, cases, movies, lectures, etc. I rarely lecture for an entire class session. Rather, I try to make each session interactive to keep students engaged.

And the last way I reinforce that I care is by listening and incorporating student feedback. I frequently ask for their candid feedback about the course, both informally and via an anonymous mid-course evaluation. After they fill out this evaluation, we have a discussion of what were the things they liked and did not like about the course, and what changes we can make going forward.

Students have told me that they appreciate my approach. I've been told more than once that I’m one of the best professors on campus. At graduation, students have gone out of their way and kept their loved ones waiting to come up to me to say thank you and give me a hug. I get emails from graduated students on a regular basis asking to meet with me to discuss their careers and business ideas. 

I share this not to brag, but simply as evidence that what I’m doing seems to work. Or at least, it mostly works. My previous two entries make it clear that I am still learning and growing as I strive to be an effective “CEO of my classroom.” I don’t expect the learning to ever end as that’s what makes my job so interesting and wonderful – every semester is different and presents new challenges on how to help my students learn and thrive.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Getting Personal: Learning to be a leader (#2)

Earlier this week, I conducted an experiential exercise in the classroom that – through a bargaining and trading activity – effectively mimicked the real world by creating three groups of students: the rich, the middle-class and the poor. At one point in the exercise, the rich are offered the opportunity to make the rules. The outcome is always the same: students who – mostly through luck – were able to end up in the rich group completely forget about their peers in the middle-class and poor groups and see no problems with making rules that only help themselves. The exercise helps illustrate how quickly one can become corrupted by power.

After the exercise was complete, I led a discussion about the experience. At one point, I posed to the class the following question: “In this game, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Does it have to be this way?” I have done this exercise a few times and I typically do not spend much time on this question because it can be a bit controversial and is slightly off-topic.

But this time I let the discussion continue for much longer than I have in the past. And I did something else that I do not usually do: I got involved in it. Rather than facilitating the discussion, I engaged the students and tried to rebut their arguments. In doing so, I made my own political views obviously clear. (I’m fairly liberal. This should not surprise anyone. I spent nine years at Berkeley and two years in Austin – what else could I possibly be?)

At one point, a student in the class – who was arguing the viewpoint that it would be a bad idea to stop the rich from getting richer – made a comment. Another student replied to the comment but did so by talking to me rather than him, to which I responded “Why don’t you talk to Warren Buffet over there instead of me?” At that point, the student who made the original comment got up and left the classroom. It caught me off guard, and I tried to continue as if nothing had happened. But I was quite troubled by it. I’ have never had a student walk out of my class.

Before going to bed, I sent the student an email. In it, I apologized for creating an environment that made him feel so uncomfortable that he had no choice but to leave. And I asked if he would meet with me. Thankfully he agreed to do so and we met yesterday. He explained to me that he was not necessarily a fervent believer in that the rich should get richer, but was arguing that point of view in order to create a more engaging discussion. But when I labeled him as “Warren Buffet” he felt as if he was being ganged up on and felt that his best option was to leave.

Upon hearing this, I felt horrible. Here he was, trying to do exactly what I wanted my students to do – create a more lively discussion and encourage others in the class to participate. It was never my intent to gang up on him or call him names. My calling him “Warren Buffet” was supposed to be a joke – and it turned out to be a very bad one.

In my leadership class, I talk about the concept of “emotional intelligence” (EI), which is defined as the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively. One component of EI is self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize and understand your moods and emotions as well as their effect on others. Another component is self-regulation, which is the ability to control our impulses and moods – to think before acting. While I was aware that revealing my political views and getting directly involved was inappropriate, I was unable to stop myself. In other words, I may have been self-aware but I did not self-regulate myself.

In contrast, not only was my student very self-aware, but he was also able to think before acting. He knew that if he stayed in the classroom and continued to debate with me that he would do or say something he would have regretted. So he chose the only course of action that made sense: he left the room. Not only was he self-aware, but he was also able to regulate his behavior to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. While I may have been the person who was standing in front of the classroom that day, it was he who was the real teacher.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Getting Personal: Learning to be a leader

While I normally teach a business planning class and a leadership class, this semester I’m only teaching leadership. Since my mind has been exclusively focused on helping my students acquire the skills to become effective leaders, I've been spending time reflecting on my own leadership abilities and experiences. Below is one pivotal leadership experience that came early in my academic career. 

During my first semester after getting finishing my doctoral studies, I was assigned to teach a class where students act as consultants for local businesses. To help the students deliver high quality results to their clients, each team of students is assigned a mentor. These mentors are typically experienced business executives who have volunteered their time to help enhance student learning.

While I had taught students during my doctoral program, I had never been part of a class that involved managing both students and mentors. During one particular class session – where each student team was presenting their work to the rest of the class – the cell phone of one of the mentors began to give a loud cha-ching sound (reminiscent of a cash register). The first time it happened, the mentor (who was a small business owner) quipped that the cha-ching sound meant that someone had just placed an order on his website. It continued to happen a few more times during the class.

One of the times his phone went cha-ching, it was in the middle of a team’s presentation. The cha-ching was loud enough to cause the student who was speaking at the time to stop mid-sentence. The student asked the mentor to silence his phone. The mentor said he did not know how to do that. The student then asked if the mentor could turn off his phone. The mentor refused. The student then made a sarcastic remark and attempted to finish his portion of the presentation. But the student’s frustration and irritation was clear to see and he stumbled through the rest of his presentation. Moreover, his team members looked embarrassed to be affiliated with this student.

After the class, the student asked me why I did not speak up and ask the mentor to turn off his phone. I replied that I did not do so because I did not want to risk upsetting someone who was a valuable part of our program. We debated this issue for a bit and then the student expressed his strong disappointment for my inaction and walked away.

I recounted this incident and the subsequent interaction I had with the student in my head hundreds of times. And with every recollection, I felt worse. My student was right. In my efforts to not offend a mentor, I had effectively thrown my student under the bus. As a professor, my primary responsibility should have been to my student – not to an outsider. And that responsibility was forgotten simply because I did not want to create a scene.

That incident happened almost three years ago, and it still troubles me. About a year after it happened, I sent the student an email apologizing for my inaction and that I had failed him. I never received a response. While a part of me was hoping he would accept my apology, it is probably better he did not. Had he done so, it would have given me closure. But putting this incident behind me and forgetting all about it is not what’s best. Rather, it is better for me to have a constant reminder that I lost (and will never regain) the respect of a student who came to my class to (ironically) learn how to become a better leader. And I need that reminder to make sure I never forget that, in the classroom, my students always come first.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Power of Networks: Steve's Story

I spent much of this week discussing the importance of having a social network that has the following three characteristics:
1. It contains people you trust.
Not everyone in your network has to be someone you would trust with your deepest secrets, but you should have a fair amount of people you can trust to various degrees. This is because when there is trust between two people, it means they share information with each other that they would likely not share with anyone else or, at most, share with a select few. This gives you access to information that few others have.

2. It contains people from diverse backgrounds.
This gives you access to people with different viewpoints and skill-sets than yourself. And the benefit is two-fold. First, by understanding the point of view of people who think differently than you, you obtain unique information that can be used to give yourself an advantage in understanding and relating to all types of people. Second, knowing people from diverse backgrounds simply means that if you need a certain type of expertise, you can find it quite easily since it is likely possessed by someone in your network.

3. It contains different clusters of people.
When not everyone in your network knows everyone else, it creates opportunities for you to connect people – and to potentially benefit from making that connection. Such opportunities are referred to as brokerage opportunities.

All of this is nicely articulated in the article “How to Build Your Network” by Brian Uzzi and Sharon Dunlap (Harvard Business Review, December 2005). The article also talks about a gentleman named Steve, who built a network containing these three characteristics. I had the privilege of being Brian’s teaching assistant and I heard Steve’s story in detail. I’d like to share that story with you.

Brian first met Steve when the two of them happened to be at adjacent squash courts and, coincidentally, both of their partners did not show up. So rather than go home, they decided to play together. While both enjoyed the game, they did not make plans to meet again.

Some time went by, and Brian got a call from Steve. Steve said he had a squash date, but could not make it. Would Brian like to take his place? Brian agreed, and it turned out Steve’s squash date was with the president of the university where both Steve and Brian worked.

Some time later, the same thing happened. Steve called Brian with the same request: can you take my place on the squash court? Given that Steve’s last squash date was with the president of the university, Brian agreed to go simply because at this point he was curious as to whom else Steve knew. It turned out that Brian’s squash partner was a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

After this Brian was extremely curious: how does Steve know all of these big-shots? So he asked Steve what he did. It turned out that Steve was the conductor of the university’s orchestra. Since the orchestra played at most of the university’s major events, Steve was constantly in the company of many prominent and wealthy individuals from the community.

Steve was smart enough to realize what a wonderful opportunity he had been given. So rather than simply do his job and head home, Steve spent time meeting people at these events and building relationships with them. This helped Steve create a network that was quite diverse and contained many different clusters of people.

Upon learning what Steve did, Brian explained to him how beneficial it was to have a network like Steve’s. More time passed and one day Steve called Brian to share some great news: he had just been offered a job conducting the symphony orchestra in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Brian was puzzled as to why Steve was so excited about a position that did not seem like a big step up from his current position. But it all made sense when Steve said that the symphony orchestra in Cheyenne was a part-time orchestra. That meant that every musician in the orchestra was also part of another major orchestra somewhere else. In other words, by taking this position, Steve would be expanding his network to include people from prominent orchestras all over the world. Moreover, by knowing one person who is part of another orchestra, he now has someone who can introduce him to any of the other members in that orchestra. In other words, Steve was about to exponentially increased the diversity in his network and the number of brokerage opportunities available to him.

Not surprisingly, Steve took the job in Cheyenne and was able to leverage the new relationships he built to get a job conducting at a week-long world-renowned classical music festival in Bologna, Italy.

Steve’s story is special for two reasons. First, it is a great illustration of the power of networks. Second, Steve is someone who is extremely generous with his network. He readily introduced people in his network to each other and did not expect anything in return. In network terminology, Steve is a superconnector. In my opinion, not only should we all strive to build networks like Steve, we should also strive to be as generous in helping others build their own networks.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Call Me Maybe

Talking on the phone has become passé. Let’s be honest, talking on a cellphone has become arguably the most frustrating part of our day, as the call quality is so poor that we spend most of our time asking “can you hear me now?” or “can you say that again?”. Why talk when you can just text or email? After all, we’re much too busy to talk on the phone and do silly things like make small talk. In fact, a recent entrepreneur blogged about why he doesn’t take calls and it became a modest hit on Twitter.

However, by relegating all of our social interactions to texts, emails or Facebook posts, we may be relegating ourselves to a life of isolation because we are no longer spending time building and maintaining relationships. Most of us do not meet new people through texts, emails or Facebook. We meet them by getting out of the office or house and going to meetings, events, conferences, social gatherings, etc. And the best way to maintain these relationships is by again meeting in person – maybe at another meeting/event/conference/gathering, or maybe one-on-one for lunch or a drink.

Everyone talks about the value of one’s social network. But, what’s equally important to remember is that the strategies that help build effective social networks (discussed here) are the ones that result in making real connections, which is best done through face-to-face interactions.

If face-to-face interactions are not possible, then talking on the phone is the next best thing. Yes, it means there will be small talk. But it is that small talk that helps build relationships. It is that small talk that will reveal what the two of you have in common and provide you with a way to strengthen the bond. None of this can happen over email or text.

So go ahead and pick up that phone. Use it to catch up with a friend or someone else in your network. Or, better yet, use it to schedule lunch or a time to meet them for drinks. Don’t let technology disconnect you from the world. After all, when you need to tap your network for guidance or assistance, you probably want the other person to respond with more than a text or email.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Everyone should think like an entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is not just a topic of interest for someone starting a business, it is a mindset. In fact, this mindset has been so crucial that I recommend that every college student should take at least one entrepreneurship course – regardless of whether they actually want to start a business or not.

Why? First, entrepreneurship programs are unique in that they are multidisciplinary in nature. All of the functional areas of business (e.g., strategy, finance, marketing, accounting, etc.) come together when discussing the process of launching new ventures. And it significantly enhances the learning experience. As an MBA student, I remember vividly how much I struggled to put together financial statements for a fictitious business despite having taken two graduate-level finance classes. Now, as an instructor, I see my students go through similar struggles as shift to examining things from a holistic perspective rather than a purely functional perspective. In today’s world, companies – large and small – must think and act entrepreneurial in order to stay competitive. As such, it is important for students to do the same so that they can help these companies succeed.

And secondly, entrepreneurship concepts can be applied to help individuals build successful careers. One book that does this especially well is “Business Model You.” This book explains how the business model canvas can be adapted to examine an individual’s career. The same sorts of principles that are used to examine and validate an organization’s business model can then be applied to this personal business model to help individuals find happiness and success in both their work and personal lives. Gone are the days when someone could start their career at a firm and remain there till retirement. Individuals must constantly evaluate their careers and figure out what changes need to be made to stay relevant and competitive in the workplace. This requires adopting an entrepreneurial mindset, and the best way to do so is to learn it before you start your professional careers: during your undergraduate education.