Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ethical Leadership Highlighted on The Apprentice

On week 9 of “The Apprentice”, after two previous weeks where lying had come up as an unacceptable factor amongst the contestants, one contestant was fired at the beginning of the show for cheating.

On week 7, Mahsa was fired after initially breaking her team’s trust by discussing their financial winnings with the other team prior to the board room. She later denied this interaction to Mr. Trump and was fired because of it. Not only was she going into the board room with an unfair advantage, but she then lied about it.

The following week, speculation came up regarding Stephanie’s involvement on a task. She denied certain actions, and it was unclear if she just truly didn’t realize she was lying or if in fact it was a calculated move. Either way, she has been spared thus far as it could not be proven.

On week 9, Anand, who during week 7 had been project manager, was caught sending texts to friends in New York asking them to come take a pedi-cab ride from their team. He asked that they pretend not to know Anand and give the men an advantage. The men ultimately won that task, even though Anand asserts none of his friends came by. This was a direct violation of the rules of the show, but was it actually unethical? When he was confronted by Mr. Trump on episode 9, he initially denied it until Mr. Trump read aloud the said text message.

After two weeks of being in ethical case competitions, and hearing about ethical leadership in the classroom, it is interesting to see what people do. It is also refreshing to see that one of the most powerful businessmen in the world holds a very hard line against certain blatant unethical acts. This season has been about candidates who come from unemployment, underemployment or diverted career paths. These people are more desperate then seasons past and probably, therefore, have more to lose. It’s important that they remain ethical, even though this season seems to be the least ethical thus far.

In lieu of these unethical acts coming forward, the candidate I suspect might actually win this thing is Clint. He not only has been the most forthright about ethical behavior and honest accountability, but he seems the most disturbed by his teammate’s behaviors. He has held himself heads above the competition if only in his ethical stance and Mr. Trump seems to be noticing. What is also extremely surprising is that he has the most buttoned-down attire and least “classic” background and yet seems to be succeeding in spades. His ethical behavior might have a lot to do with this. I will let you know if ethical leadership continues to be rewarded going forward into these final episodes. Thus far, it has been an interesting case study just to observe. It also seems to encourage me that ethics has a place amongst the highest echelons of business acumen. Graziadio’s stance on ethics has a real influence, and Mr. Trump said, this type of behavior is what is killing Wall Street and what we need to move away from. Let’s hope the rest of the industries think so too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bad-luck Baylor Competition

Cursed from the start. It felt like we were cursed from the start. On Monday before the competition, I totaled my car. My face was bruised and a little worse for wear. However, I had been working with Dr. Andrea Scott preparing for this competition for a few weeks and was not going to let something like this stand in my way. I packed my bags.

At the airport, I received a distressing phone call. Matty Sujatha, one of my teammates, was supposed to be on the morning flight but had missed it due to three hours of traffic. As Brett Jamison and I sat pondering how this would affect us, we boarded our plane. Luckily, in Houston where we switched planes, we found out she had actually snuck onto our flight just before the doors closed. Disaster averted.

Or so we thought. As Brett went to grab his carry-on that had been stowed in first class, he realized someone had mistaken his generic black bag for their own. He called the guy’s number, rushed through the airport to meet him, changed terminals and went back through security just in time to make the plane to Waco.

Now three of us had been cursed. When we arrived in Waco, we had been prepping on the plane for the competition and hoping nothing else would go wrong, but in my gut, I knew this wasn’t the last of it. We still had one team member who was unscathed.

After a little team pow-wow at the hotel, and realizing we could actually use powerpoint, our own computers, and the internet for the competition, we went to bed relieved and a little nervous. Thursday morning, Kamika Dillard, our fourth member, had an upset stomach brought on by food poisoning. It had officially come full circle.

Despite all of these set backs, we received our case and got to work. The most surprising part about this case was its structure. It was a 4-page case largely describing the situation and allowing us to make our own assumptions. The quantitative data was thin and the company information we were able to ascertain was limited as it was a 2010 start-up company.

However, what was most challenging in this process was working together and figuring out each other’s working styles. We each had very distinct, somewhat competing, styles. It was 24 hours working together on this project, and we evolved throughout to learn how each person functioned best. It was trying at times, especially because I had not worked with the other three before, as I was the only first year student.

That being said, we figured out our strengths and each worked on our parts of the presentation. The following day, Friday, we were going to present twice. We stumbled upon another set-back. As we did a quick run through in the hotel room, and thought the shuttle to campus would leave at 8:15, we missed the shuttle by 4 minutes. The last team to get to campus, we rushed carrying all our luggage through campus, and a little worse for wear, arrived.

We went second in the first round, having some time to re-compose ourselves. The first presentation went surprisingly well. We were all confident afterward, and felt we had successfully addressed all the judges questions. As an ethics case, we included an ethical framework from which to evaluate our decisions and recommendation. This definitely set us apart from the competition, something that we had been trained to include thanks to our coach.

At lunch, we learned that we had moved on to the final, money round. This was a different set of judges and we were presenting to an open audience. Ultimately, we felt good after this round as well, except for an unfortunate diverted question & answer session where the judges got stuck on something we hadn’t really discussed.
Ultimately, we won third place.

Some of the takeaways:
- Sometimes it doesn’t matter how bad you think you deserve it (especially because of bad luck), you must manage your expectations and do the best you can and be proud in that.
- Don’t propose ideas that you haven’t fully thought out. Sometimes the most innovative surface ideas can bog down an otherwise healthy recommendation if you aren’t careful.
- Take time to discuss your working styles prior to getting in the room. Be honest and open in the way you like to work. It will help to get through that process in advance.
- Be kind to each other. This is something Dr. Scott told us in advance and probably is one of the most important things we achieved.
- Don’t take anything for granted. They give you a judging criteria because that is what THEY are looking for. Be more cognizant of that as you work through your ideas and presentation.

If you are interested in seeing more from the Baylor Case Competition, videos and pictures will be posted soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Drive without Distraction

I am busy. Being an MBA student makes me extremely busy. I am always making to do lists in my head, making phone calls from the car, and checking my emails at red lights. My commute is often 45 minutes to an hour. If I don't get work done in the car, I have trouble with my time management.

Yesterday, I crashed my car. No, I totaled my car.

On my way to school, I was in my head about a stressful conversation I had with my brother the night before, and I was strategizing the week ahead. I probably checked my phone 3-5 times looking at emails or adding something to my ongoing to do list. After getting off the highway, the radio stations disappear and I had to switch to CD. Without some music, I find it difficult to unwind before school. My thoughts sometimes literally overwhelm me.

I can't possibly be the only one who does this. But as I was switching, a pick-up truck slammed on its brakes in front of me, and I slammed on mine. Thanks to the water and oil mix on the road from the morning's rain, my car slid much further than expected and completely crumpled into back of the truck. My airbags went off and my face is definitely a bit burned and banged up. But I'm mostly okay. Thank god, I am mostly okay.

This was an eye-opening experience. One that I equate to the stress of being in school and all the potentially dangerous situations we allow ourselves into.

We drive when we're tired, having a phone conversation, checking emails, reading texts, jotting down notes, eating meals, doing our makeup, fixing our ties. Any slew of distractions can plague the busy MBA student. Hell, they can plague any busy person, especially businesspeople. This behavior is something we must stomp out NOW before we run the risk of future disaster.

When people asked me today if I'm okay, I say no. Because I'm not. But where I'm really not okay is psychologically. My face will heal no problem and my hand will stop being sore, but psychologically, I'm just as stressed as ever. As if I have time to go find a new car. However, this stress needs to be managed or the same thing, or worse, could happen again.

Some stress relieving advice:

When I was swimming the first month of school, I was much less stressed. I did my thinking time in the pool. It was awesome.

Play with a puppy. My dog is both an amazing hassle and an amazing distraction. If you don't have a dog, go find a friend and walk the dog together. There is something truly lovely and relieving about puppy kisses.

Write to do lists before you leave the house. The extra few minutes will help to clear your mind in advance of the drive. Or, on the way home, make sure you write the list in advance.

Don't be afraid to say no. You can't do everything. I recently had a conversation with a friend who has been overextended. The pressure of being at every meeting, every event, is exhausting.

To that end...get a good night's sleep. You are less likely to hurt yourself in any number of ways (including getting good grades and keeping up your health) if you get a good night's sleep.

These are just a few tips from someone who has not been sleeping well, been battling a head cold, not making enough to do lists, not exercising enough or eating well, and not been spending enough time with my puppy. And this person just totaled her car.

Case Competition Results and Reflection

Friday morning I arrived at school with nervous energy and positive thoughts. My team, Canyon Curves Consulting, was competing in the Values-Centered Leadership Lab Case Competition. This is an ethics-focused case competition. You are given 2 hours to read the case, analyze it, form a recommendation and create a presentation. Then, you present for a panel of judges for 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. The judges are looking at 3 brackets of 3 teams, one winner from each bracket moves on to the finals.

Our team consisted of Sean Gray, Noreen Okarter, Jeff Kraft, and myself. We each brought different skills to the table. In preparation for the event, we had done a lot of research on the process of case competition problem-solving. Our case, about Dannon Yogurt, dealt with Corporate Social Responsibility issues in marketing. As we had prepared before the event, we had allocated time to certain things.

That all went out the window. It took much longer to read the 27 page case than expected, almost 40 minutes of our 2 hours. Then, when we went to organize it, there was some disagreement as to which direction to go with the recommendations. As time ate away, our dream of a practice run quickly evaporated.

In the first round, we were crunched for time, not giving Noreen enough time to finish her section on risk analysis. After the questions, we weren't even sure if we made it through the first round. Waiting for the results seemed to take FOREVER. But we had won our bracket and were moving on to the money round.

We had 30 minutes to adjust the judges issues and make some changes. The questions were an amazing guideline for the process, and, as another team divulged, by having easy judges in round one, they were at a disadvantage going into the final round.

We felt much better after our second presentation, despite having very difficult questions thrown at us. This is a very difficult section of the competition and one that most teams don't practice for. Thinking on your feet and understanding what information you had to leave out of your presentation, these two skills allow you to excel during the Q&A. And that part is judged!

In the end, we came in second to a team of 2nd year students who competed last year and came in second place. It was actually a result we were anticipating, so in our hearts, it felt like a complete win. I would recommend this experience not only to people interested in consulting, but to anyone who expects to make managerial decisions. Thinking on your feet, presentation skills, and problem-solving are as critical as it comes for MBA students. I was ecstatic to be a part of this and look forward to competing with my other team at Baylor University next week. The format of that case competition is very different and I'm sure I'll have additional reflections on that one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Prepping for case competition

The next two weeks are nutty. I have always had a drive to win. I don't like not winning, and the reason is not actually for the "glory" or the "bragging rights." I like winning because it means I challenged myself and it was worth the effort.

That being said, I don't win very often. Athletically, I was ecstatic when I finished about a millionth in the LA marathon. And I actually didn't engage nearly as much as I could have in high school competitions, like debate or other things. I won a poetry contest once, that was pretty neat. And I did win elections for my youth group chapter. That is about where my glory starts and ends. So now, as I get older and I am more confident in my abilities, winning has taken on a certain self-fulfilling notion.

On Friday, I am participating in Pepperdine's Value-Centered Leadership Lab Ethics Case Competition. I have assembled a team that I am damn proud of. And the best thing is, we all are "in it to win it" as one of my teammates said. Sean Gray, Jeff Kraft, and Noreen Okarter make up the team and we each bring unique perspectives to the case. The most nerve-wracking part is being able to analyze a case in only 1 hour. Not just analyze, but prepare a presentation on this analysis.

Today, I met with my other case competition team. I am on a team that is being sent to Baylor University to compete in their ethics case competition. This competition, we are locked in a room for 24 hours to work on our case. It's obviously a very different format. Today, as we met to discuss a practice case, it took about 3 hours to really lock down what we were going to do. This scares the life out of me in regards to Friday's competition. Can it be done?

Clearly it can, as this same format has been used for a few years now. However, sticking to a process will definitely be key. We didn't do that nearly as much today, and as formulaic as that is, it will probably be the only way to jam through all that information effectively. This is getting to be a bit of a ramble, but I'm just excited to work on these two case teams. As a burgeoning consultant, I better be good at this or I'm in the wrong field. Time to test out my skills and see how I fare.