LEAD starts at CORE, the Booth version of orientation and is designed to help student interaction. One great aspect of LEAD is that it is run by second years - so it connects the incoming class and the returning class both formally and informally.
The program starts with The Leadership Outdoor Experience (LOE) - a three day mandatory retreat to Lake Geneva. It is like boot camp all over - but a lot more fun. The LEAD facilitators (second years) design numerous team building activities for the three days - and by the time we return from LOE, we would know a lot more people than we can remember names of. Also, LEAD is the only program we take as a cohort. The entire class is split into ten cohorts, and each cohort is then split into eight squads. You know your squad and your cohort for the entire two year - and hence chances are that you'll find your closest buddies in these groups. LOE is followed by classroom sessions that touch upon numerous leadership topics like ethics, team building, crisis management, etc. The second years have some autonomy on how they manage these classes and they try to make it fun by using videos, cases and real life examples. The LEAD program finally ends with Golden Gargoyles – an annual event where cohorts make movies from which the best movies will get $$$. Overall - the program is designed to be a fun, enjoyable arena where an individual's strengths and weaknesses are identified, analyzed and opportunities are given to improve on them. This information also helps individuals approach classrooms and other group work as better team players and leaders.
Does the program work - mostly yes. People have a love hate relationship with LEAD. There are many factors at play that lead to mixed reactions from LEAD:
- People expect too much from the program - no one is gonna remodel you in 10 weeks. All you will have is the knowledge that you are awesome in some aspect and you also suck at certain areas. You'll have a to-do list, but eventually you gotta work on it. LEAD is 100% a "What You Get Is What You Give". Unfortunately, no MBA student has enough time to invest in LEAD.
- The experience is not uniform - second years run the program. They are people. They all have different styles and different approaches. The class is also diverse and has people from different backgrounds and experience levels. The program definitely aims at finding a middle ground - to be valuable to everyone. People sometimes compare their experiences across the table and go bah; which I don’t think is fair - because as a whole, the system works.
- The program is very theoretical - this was true in my case. I'd have preferred to do more hands on exercises, to see how I react to situations. To see how my team mates react to situations. I learn the best from such experiences, but we felt we could have more of those than discussion scenarios with PowerPoint slides! Fortunately, this aspect was improved this year for the incoming class - but by how much, I am not sure.
- The LEAD program is reflective - this is debatable; but personally I think it is true. The LEAD facils are second years. They haven’t been to the real world, used LEAD skills over a significant period of time, to come back and say "Hey this worked this way". What we hear is "In my prev job, this is how it worked" or "This is how it would work in our future jobs". By how much this dilutes the experience - we don’t know yet. I say yet because, true to GSB style, we have a professor researching on this and we'll know the results in a couple of decades!
- The Learnings - In the very first LEAD class, me and my squad were given a case, asked to solve it and were videotaped! It was hilarious to watch ourselves crack this case. But we also learnt how we behave in a team environment - right from our posture to the tone of our voice to the level of participation. This is just one example - there were numerous instances when I discovered aspects and qualities in me that I did not know I had in me. Fortunately, I've worked on my to-do list. What I hear from my friends (who knew me before school) makes me believe that it has worked. This is the very reason behind LEAD and this is why I said it works.
- The People - it is no wonder that I'm good friends with all six of my squad mates, and know everyone in my cohort. It works the same way for all 55 of us in our cohort; and all 55 of us in each cohort. There are also avenues to meet the cohort before us and the cohort after us. We also have a sister cohort and sister squad concept - which was not really a big hit because we did very few exercises with them. There's also a quarter long competition for cohorts - so we compete and get to meet people from other cohorts, under the LEAD banner. This is another motive behind LEAD and the program scores heavily on this aspect.
- The feedback - There is a facil attached to each squad. He's in-charge of ensuring that your LEAD experience is the best. One of his responsibilities is to offer you feedback - at carefully designed points in the program - to help you catch things that you missed. There's feedback from your peers - your squad mates. If you stepped on someone's foot - you'll know right there. No hard feelings. Finally, as I’ll explain in the next point, there are numerous moments when the programs trigger the internal feedback system and help you see yourself in a different light.
- The opportunities - nowhere else would you get such a risk free environment to test your mettle and see if you've improved. There's the classroom, the cases, the exercises, golden gargoyles, leadership positions inside your cohort, the LEAD challenge - just way too many moments that will show you who you are. Now go work on them...
If I take a step back and evaluate its role in my MBA experience, I'd say it is definitely a value add to the program. If you put in a fair amount of time and effort into the program, you'll get a fair amount out of it. And if that is done well, you'll improve as a team player and as a leader - and you'll have enough to handle future situations in school, and beyond, quite well and, dare I say, better than you used to.