September 8th marked the first official day of my MBA journey at the DeGroote School of Business, along with the rest of the Class of 2017. In our very first Transition Week session, Professor Teal McAteer strongly emphasized the notion that ‘we are all leaders.’
While any MBA student would reflexively declare that he or she is a leader, I know I was not alone in having some doubts on the validity of that statement. To me, a leader is someone who guides the team and ‘pulls the rope’ in the direction that is in the best interest of the team. Despite agreeing with Professor McAteer’s sentiments, part of me still questioned that if everyone in the room is pulling in a different direction, is the team going to generate any traction? In other words, if we are all leaders, doesn’t that mean that no one is a leader?
My doubts on this matter were clarified at the fireside chat with Dr. Lynton “Red” Wilson, Chancellor emeritus of McMaster University, and Gordon Pitts, Writer-in-Residence at the DeGroote School of Business. At this enlightening event, Wilson and Pitts discussed the subject of Pitts’ latest book, Purdy Crawford, who was one of Canada’s greatest business leaders and the true embodiment of effective leadership.
In the session, the gentlemen discussed how there is no clear recipe for being a leader. Each individual has their own intrinsic personalities and skills, and it is a mix of those assets that will determine the kind of leader he or she becomes. The speakers also emphasized that leaders do not always have to be vocal or loud; they know when to step up, and just as importantly, when to step back. They understand what drives the people around them, their own strengths and limitations, and most significantly, the timing for when to rise to the occasion.
During the discussion, Wilson outlined what he felt were some key critical traits that true leaders exemplify. Notable points included being courageous, by standing up for what you believe in even if others do not agree, and demonstrating integrity in everything you do, even when no one is looking. Another characteristic was having the ability to anticipate, which Wilson described through Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote on going to where the puck will be, as opposed to where it currently is.
In terms of more direct advice to the student population, Wilson and Pitts emphasized the value of understanding how to do business cases. The collaborative effort that goes into solving a business problem with team members of different backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives is a tremendous driver in polishing our individual leadership skills.
Attending this session allowed me to benefit from the wisdom of two demonstrated leaders, and clarified my perception of what forms leadership can take. Whether you are the introvert who is active in brainstorming, the person with stage fright who is exceptional at creating PowerPoint decks, or the highly enthusiastic public speaker, we are all indeed leaders in our own right.
Zain Allauddin, is the 2015 recipient of the Adam Felesky MBA Scholarship. This annual competition was created to award a DeGroote MBA scholarship to one outstanding, newly admitted MBA student each year. It is supported by the generosity of McMaster alumnus and philanthropist, Adam Felesky, former CEO of Horizons Exchange Traded Funds.