A Reflection on Greatness, Humility & Success
By: Shannon Kaschak
Nearly a decade ago, I walked into Management 101 with a red book in one hand and black and white composition notebook in the other. My professor was video conferenced in from Austria, and I sat down beyond confused by what was happening: why didn’t I have an in person teacher, and why had he sent me to Barnes & Noble for a book instead of making me buy a textbook? As we worked through Jim Collins’ Good to Greatand began to dive deeper into what makes a leader stand out from the rest, taking a company well beyond good and into the realm of great, I began to understand that my professor was setting me up for a lifelong journey of becoming the best that I could possibly be, rather than just making me memorize definitions for a midterm and final exam.
It is fitting then, that as my business school career comes to a close, it is ending with me thumbing through a well worn book- dog eared pages reminding me of the things that really stood out and margins so covered in scribbles it’s probably time for a new copy. As I finish up the work to earn an MBA from Sacred Heart University, I feel that my education has come full circle from those first days of deciding if I even wanted to be a business major. Now, more than ever, I know that I have chosen a field that is not only one known for success, but also has the potential to impact the world in a profound way.
As I think back on all of the things I have learned in the MBA program, I can see how each of my classes will become the cornerstones for the foundation of a great manager, bringing me through the various stages of becoming a Level 5 Leader. The first level is that of the Highly Capable Individual. From Accounting and Finance, to Microeconomics and Business Law, I refreshed my memory on skills I would need to be successful moving forward. Furthermore, I established strong work habits right out the gate- focusing on time management, goal setting, and acknowledging both my personal strengths and weaknesses when it came to the world of business. The second level is that of the Contributing Team Member. After completing the pre-requisite courses, I began to truly dive into becoming a better leader. Through rousing debates, role-playing and team building projects, I began to see how working with people from all different backgrounds and personality types could create both a strong working dynamic, and also could cause large problems amongst teammates. We focused on integrity, and humility, looking at how we could influence people without the use of force or rudeness, and learned to think critically about the environment in which I was working.
The third level is that of the Competent Manager. As I dove into the Dynamic Business Management courses, it was time to put my money where my mouth was. I had relearned what a balance sheet looked like, was able to put together a decent budget, and had learned how to work in short bursts with people who didn’t work in the same way as myself. But for six months, I would find myself challenged to my core, as I truly began to learn what it meant to be a competent manager. With the end goal of creating a product from start to finish, my teammates and I dove headfirst into the course. What I hadn’t expected was to have teammates who functioned so vastly differently from myself. Deadlines were a thing that came and went, and often we would go long stretches of time without hearing from multiple people on the team. There is a saying that communication happens 7×7 ways, and it was here that I truly learned the meaning of this. In order to effectively lead a team, I had to be able to meet everyone where they were at, and often spent hours on various social media sites to be able to help other teammates with work that needed to be done. We were given a new teammate at the start of the second semester, adding yet another personality and now needing to bring him up to speed. Looking back on this process, I can say that I was not going anywhere past the Competent Manager level any time soon. I worked always for the sake of efficiency, making sure everyone hit deadlines, and kept lines of communication constantly open. When work didn’t get completed, I just plowed through making sure it got done and could be handed in, letting resentment settle into the back of my mind, and slowly beginning to show my teammates less and less understanding. By the time I had finished the courses, I felt like I had survived a small war, and started to think deeply about what had worked, and what hadn’t worked in helping with the team. Setting clear deadlines, asking for confirmation from teammates and being open to communication in any form had worked really well. But what hadn’t worked so well was my lack of empathy towards outside situations. I had made it clear that the fraternity formal wasn’t as important to me as this project was, and that if my grade suffered at the expense of the fun of senior week, I would be fairly upset. I was standing too close to the trees to see the forest. There is more to life than passing a class, no matter how important that 3.7 GPA looks on paper. I knew going forward that this was something I was going to have to work on, making sure that I didn’t use my INTJ, Type A personality as a crutch to excuse less than stellar managerial behavior.
When I started the capstone of the MBA program, my goal was to take all of the positives I had learned from the Dynamic Business Management courses and apply them to my new team. I also wanted to focus on keeping things in perspective, and being more understanding to the things going on in the lives of my teammates. There had to be a healthy balance between making sure everything got done, and still showing respect to someone else’s life. For my final semester of the MBA program, I wanted to work on becoming a level four leader. The fourth level is that of the Effective Leader. Keeping in mind everything I have learned over the past three years, I have intentionally spent this time keeping lines of communication open, rallying everyone towards final goals, and mediating spats caused by miscommunication. Rather than getting myself riled up over every little thing, I have tried to take a step back to look at the big picture. Everyone has a life and a job outside of school, and while this project is incredibly important, it probably didn’t need to feel like life or death at all times. Imagine my surprise when this attitude served me far better in helping the team to work well together, and accomplish goals that we had all set together. Sure there have been hiccups along the way: complete lack of communication, missed deadlines, and scrambling to make sure things have looked just right before handing them in. But with a deep breath and a reality check, these things were not the end of the world, merely things that needed to be addressed in a timely fashion. With a more gentle tone and the use of reason, it was easier to convince everyone that the team would be better off if we all worked together, rather than demanding everything be in by a set deadline. There were other classes, jobs, vacations and family events that needed to take precedence, and somehow, almost all of the deadlines were still met. Though there were still personality clashes, I focused on building bridges, openly communicating problems that I was having, and asking for real solutions from the whole team, rather than just isolating myself and working with the people that thought just like me.
So how do I move into the realm of the Level Five Leader? The fifth level is that of Executive. Jim Collins spends a lot of time talking about the importance of humility when it comes to becoming a great leader that can take a company from good to great as well. Humility is a trait that will take a lifetime to fully understand. There is always a way to become a better version of oneself, and there is always a way to practice humility even further. I believe that true humility is seeing myself exactly as I am- nothing more, and nothing less. I hope with each experience I have, I will find many opportunities for deep personal growth, which will lead me to be the best leader I can possibly be.
One of my final assignments in my capstone course was to read an article by Clayton Christiansen, called How Will You Measure Your Life? This seemingly small assignment packed a powerful punch and brought me back to my very first semester of college when I was trying to figure out what direction I was going to take as I started my adult life. In five hundred words or less I had to pick something that stood out to me in this article, and what stood out the most was that this man who teaches at the Harvard Business School takes time to ask his students what they will be able to look back on and be proud of. He talks about balance between work and life, and keeping everything in perspective. Christiansen also points to the stark reality that if there is not something that you are striving towards, you end up chasing after a fleeting form of happiness and instant gratification. This idea resonates with me deeply- because at the end of the day, it’s not really about bringing home lots of money (though that is of course, a nice bonus!). At the end of my life, I should be able to look back and see that my career was a time in my life where I effected great change, made the world a better place, and became the best person that I can possibly become.
In the next ten years, I would like to continue to broaden my horizons, and gain as many experiences in both leadership and marketing as I can, while also raising a family. In the immediate future, this will be working with The Barnum Festival to build a strong Social Media Campaign and Digital Marketing Plan. I want to continue to utilize everything that I have learned, and become even more proficient in my chosen field. I want to continue to foster strong communication, and build connections with the many amazing people that I get to interact with on a day-to-day basis. I would like to continue to work from home, building a portfolio of work that is both powerful and creative, and brings about impressive results, and a strong return on investment for any company that I work for. I never want to forget the strong work ethic that got me through this program: always making sure to give everything my most sincere effort, and never being afraid to ask for help if I didn’t know how to do something. I want to be quick to apologize if I make a mistake, and make sure I always find a way to make things better than when I started a project. I hope that at each place I work, I make an impact, and make the lives of the people I work with better and brighter. I want to continue to foster strong communication skills, not be afraid of conflict, and be a voice of reason when seeking a resolution. I want to be a role model for other young women, who also want to work in the field of business and raise a family, proving that there are no limits on success when you put your mind to it and give it your all. Most of all, I want to make sure that I always remember what is important in life, balancing work and family and overall not just doing well, but, doing good.
Beyond these first ten years, I want to take all of the things that I have learned and will learn, and apply them to being a great leader. I want to be the leader that encourages people to keep things in perspective, to look at the big picture and to gauge success not just on numbers and dollar signs, but also on happiness, and overall life satisfaction. I will achieve this by taking all of the things I have learned, and all of the things I will continue to learn with each passing year, and make sure I live a life of greatness. I will foster a strong corporate culture that cares for its employees, and will think of others before myself.
If I can achieve these things, I will be able to look back on my life and feel that I was not only successful in my business career, but also that I had made an impact on the world.
All of these people deserve hand written cards all over again, but a special thanks goes out to:
Dr. Ruesch, for confirming that business was the right choice after all, and never letting me forget it.
Professor Rankin for your advising for all those years, and for celebrating all the small victories with me along the way.
The international business program of Spring 2013- you reminded me to take life a little less seriously, and to enjoy each moment as it came.
Linda, for the chocolate, as I sat, sobbing in your office begging you to help me understand the accounting ( I promise to bring you chocolate once the baby is here so you can eat chocolate and see a cute baby!).
Mary for staying with me that night till 11PM, and telling me I could do it, no matter what, and for putting me in touch with Grace.
Grace- where would I be without you? Your calm, level headed analysis of my transcript, and recommendations for which classes to take next were invaluable. I doubt I would have made it through the program without you.
Ian- for continuously inspiring me, and reminding me why I had fallen in love with not only business, but marketing in general.
Val- your steadfast direction and take no shit attitude is inspiring, and you are truly one of the greatest professors I have ever had.
My Family- for the many nights of tears, glasses of chardonnay and reminders that my self worth was not found in a spreadsheet.
My Husband, Sean. I would be nowhere without you. From coffee to dinner, sacrificing time with me and listening to my woes, you are the real MVP. I promise that over the next year, I will be here to take the night time change before your final, buy your favorite beer, and listen to everything you hate about being back in school.
And finally, my Dad. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a good man in a storm. For being my ultimate role model and for reminding me to never give up. Thank you for the shoulder to cry on, the ear to rant at, and for the laugh always just when I needed it.
These have been the hardest and most exhausting three years. Until my sweet daughter is here, this is the thing I am most proud of in my life. In 9 days, I will present my thesis and hand Val her long awaited thank you card. In 54 days, my sleeves will be a little longer, my hood a little more drab, and that coveted piece of paper will be mine.
And this whole thing will be over- a distant dream as I welcome tiny girlfriend into the world.
To the young woman wondering if she should do this: do it. Give it your all and never give up. You are strong, and you are more powerful than you realize. I believe in you.