|Anoop Bethapudy, MBA’16, and fellow Kelley Full-Time MBA students worked with
the Native American community in California during GLOBASE Native 2016.
by Anoop Bethapudy, MBA’16
The ability to write in a way that inspires and fosters teamwork is a key to great leadership. In collaboration with the Gotham Writers Workshop, students in the Kelley MBA Leadership Academy have produced a series of blog posts to demonstrate these skills.
I was 20 years old. I had no real work experience, no funds, no team, and a concert (with some of India’s best artists) to put on. Fast forward seven years and this time I was trying to lead a Global Business and Social Enterprise (GLOBASE) consulting project. Déjà vu! I had no clients, no team and no idea where to start. I remember sitting in a conference room with Rachel Fleishman, our staff coordinator, and all of the previous GLOBASE leaders. They were trying to give me tons of important information but I barely understood any of it. It was like being in the Core again!
As you may have already guessed, I pulled off both these projects (I wouldn’t write about them otherwise). As much as I would like to talk about my sheer brilliance, that is not the point of this blog and perhaps not the reality either. When I was 20 years old, I freaked out, complained and worried, but eventually made it. At 27 and with a Kelley MBA behind me, I freak out but I know it’s OK. Ambiguity is just natural.
Back in college ambiguity was everything but natural. It was unfair that sponsors didn’t respond. It was frustrating that stakeholders didn’t have the information they were supposed to have. And it was scary delegating tasks only to wonder if the task was understood. The consequences were sleepless nights, tons of anxiety and my first true encounter with stress. I was exhausted, unmotivated and irritable. My anxiety would sometimes lead to counterproductive outbursts. The stress had an impact on my academics and just the general feeling of tiredness meant it was taking a toll on my physical health. The outcomes, however, were good. We had record attendance and concertgoers raved about the experience. I still wondered about my leadership. Was there something I could have done better?
Contrast that with today, more precisely 10 months before today. I had been accepted as a GLOBASE Native leader and the ambiguity came back to haunt me again. Like the title of this blog, I freaked out but this time I knew it was fine. I didn’t think it was unfair, frustrating or scary. Things were how they were and I was determined to be successful. After all, isn’t that what I learned in the Kelley Full-Time MBA Program? So here goes my magic mantra for being a GLOBASE leader, derived from my MBA learnings.
Step 1: Trust
When dealing with uncertainty, I realized that a team of four is better than one. Diverse minds bring forth diverse ideas. Collectively we could identify opportunities and threats that I could not have done on my own. But for all this to happen, I needed to trust my team. I relied on their conclusions, accepted their decisions and believed we would do our parts. I know what you are thinking but no, it was not blind trust. We respected each other to clarify and verify whenever needed but we knew we were united in trying to create an awesome GLOBASE experience. It’s a stress reliever, knowing someone has your back.
Step 2: Fail Fast
When things were uncertain with GLOBASE, we made assumptions and put it to the test. Yes, a number of our assumptions turned out wrong and we failed, but in the quick failure, we were better equipped for the next iteration. It’s hard to make wild assumptions, but it is necessary. It turns out that sometimes crazy assumptions are right but most of the time they are not. Either way, you are one step closer to finding out what is right.
Step 3: Plan for Contingencies
Another interesting fact about failure is that it will happen. With something that has many moving parts like GLOBASE, something is bound to go wrong. Guess what? That’s OK, too. The more you embrace the possibility of failure, the easier to plan for it. I remember Tim Hoch (one of GLOBASE Native’s guest speakers) telling us that game plans would change and we had to be prepared to adapt. He was right. We had problems in communication, scheduling, last minute drop-outs and a whole host of things that went wrong. When we actively planned for them, we knew exactly what had to be done. Let’s just say there is peace in knowing there is a Plan B.
So what was the consequence of my new approach to ambiguity? For one, we were successful. Our clients were wowed and our partner organization is excited about continuing to work with us. The participants learned a lot and had a lot of fun in the process. My team and I were very proud when a few informed us of their interest in leading GLOBASE Native based on this year’s experience.
As for me, I built strong lasting relationships. I managed my class load, GLOBASE, and other extracurricular activities with much less stress. I expanded my network by at least 20 other Kelleys. I had the privilege to learn about the diverse Native American cultures. Lastly, I evolved as a leader.
As I sit back in the graduate lounge, typing these last few sentences, I think about what I would like to tell the 20-year-old me. I would tell him, “When you are faced with a mission, you will never know everything. There is always uncertainty. Freak out if you have to, but trust your team, fail as fast as you can and plan for contingencies. Go lead!”