(originally posted here on 24th February 2011)

In our second term on the MBA, we had a Leadership class. This class concentrates on what makes a good leader. We learned about the different aspects of leadership and also thought about what would happen if some of those elements were missing, i.e. what would that do for the leader’s influence over people?

It was a very discursive class, and everyone had a point of view based on previous experience with bosses or with managing and leading people. Hearing all of the different points of view was a learning experience in itself.

One day, however, we arrived in and our lecturer, Ian Walsh, had set up about 25 sheets of A4 paper on the ground in the shape of a cross. He then asked us to volunteer for an experiment. Half the class could take part and the other half could remain sitting and take notes.

Not one to pass up the opportunity to escape note taking, I made my way towards the centre of the room. We were told to stand on a piece of paper, creating a cross out of four lines of six people, all facing the centre (empty) square.

The objective was to switch places with the opposing team, but only by following certain rules. These rules stated that one could only move past a person whom they are facing, and then only if there is a free square behind that other person. They are similar to the rules involved in the marble game of solitaire, but without removing “taken” pieces from the board.

Ian then told us that we had only 15 minutes to get the job done and we were then left to our own devices. The first thing that happened was that people started trying stuff out, as a 24-person group. This, rather quickly, descended into chaos because nothing that was tried was working. Splinter groups formed and began trying to solve the problem.

Smurfit MBA Leadership class challenge

Getting ready – I’m in the middle

Off to one side, I decided to have a go at solving the problem, or at least working out an algorithm that I thought would work. I worked one out and then decided to run it past Donal, one of the other engineers in the class. He said that he’d come up with the same idea, so I was very sure of the solution after that. I managed to get my own team to line back up, along with the opposing team. I then proceeded to run the solution.

As it started to work, the din began to settle down, and people got back into their positions when they realised what was going on. As the solution unfolded, the engineering/problem solving side of me began to feel elated. After I had swapped my team with the opposing team, I got to work on the two remaining teams. There were calls to stand on the desk, so I did, getting a better overview of the situation.

Smurfit MBA Leadership class challenge

Me “directing” the exercise from the table

While it felt very weird at first, standing on a desk giving people instructions, it started to feel a lot more natural when I realised that my classmates were trusting me to act in their interests. Organising the two groups felt great from a problem-solving perspective as well as a leadership one.

When I had finished, Ian asked me to do it again, but this time without saying any words. It was very surreal, but I managed to do it all again by pointing and gesturing at my classmates. It really boosted my own confidence to be leading people and bringing them with me towards an end goal.

The exercise really drove home the camaraderie and team-oriented nature of our class. There were no squabbling egos or attempts to wrest power. It was a clear situation of “working for the good of the team” when a trusted colleague has shown the way.

Unfortunately, we took 17 minutes to complete the task, which goes to show why some wiggle room should always be built into the critical path of any project.

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(originally posted here on 27th January 2011)

In one of the first “class admin” sessions that we had, there were a few committees to be voted in, along with class reps. At the time, none of us really knew each other very well, so it was all going to be based on faith. The class reps sounded like important jobs, as did the liaison to the education committee. The perk from the liaison job is “free sandwiches”, and no full-time student can in good conscience turn down free food.

The final jobs were for the Social Committee. There were supposed to be five members and some representation from the various cultures in the class. Five people put up their hands, including me, and we had ourselves a committee.

Hanging out with Smurfit MBA Class

Colm, Prof. Boyle, Franklin & Megan

Three of us are Irish: Christopher, Franklin and I. Franklin has been an entrepreneur in the restaurant/catering business and his contacts are a bonus for any social committee. He always has someone in his network that can help out with social events.

The other two members are Megan, from the USA, and Nargiza (pronounced Nar-ghee-sa), from Kyrgyzstan. This multinational presence definitely helped curb the Irish trait from spending the entire budget on drink.

So far, we have organised a “one month anniversary” social evening, two “end of exams” parties, a trip to the Leinster – Munster Magner’s League , some trips to the pub to watch the Ireland Guinness Series international rugby matches, a “Vietnamese/welcome back dinner” for the start of 2011 in Koh Restaurant and a future weekend away in Leitrim Quay for a bit of boating on the Shannon and general relaxation.

We try to take into account the needs and desires of the class. We have used surveymonkey surveys to fish for ideas as well as get feedback on some of our own ideas. The most popular ones were chosen as foci for our budget.

All in all, we seem to be doing a good job in keeping the class together on a social level as well as a study level. We’ve become a very tight-knit group, but how much of that is simply down to the overall intensity of the course, rather than the socialising aspects, we may never know. But what we do know is that, on a course this intense, it is vitally important to relax and blow off steam from time to time. We will keep you posted on our activities…

Vietnamese Night Out - Smurfit MBA FT MBA 2011

Vietnamese Evening, Jan 2011

(originally posted here on 15th December 2010)

I was very nervous as I walked into the main hall of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. There was a group of standing around near the door, chatting. It didn’t look like a close-knit group, so I walked towards them. One was talking about the life he’d just left in Bermuda.

“Aw, it was paradise”
“Really?”
“Heh, no. It’s about a mile wide and very violent.”

The group turned out to be a mix of Full-Time and Executive MBAs, all male. There was even a comment of “sausage-fest” just before the first female student arrived which put us out of our misery.

Given Ireland’s small size, the odds were in favour that I’d know at least one person on the MBA. Sure enough, in walked Ruairí, a classmate of mine from Oatlands College, where I had attended secondary school. We’d gotten along well in school and we had a lot to catch up on. But, while it felt good to see a familiar face amongst 40 or so strangers, it was not necessary. The dynamics of the class are such that close bonds formed very quickly. Within the first week, friendships had formed, and everyone was doing their best to help others with accommodation information, travel, or simply advice on where to get a good pint of Guinness.

All in all, I would have to say that these are some of the nicest people that I have ever met. I immediately felt comfortable and at ease with them, and I’ve made both new friends and great contacts for the future. The sheer wealth of knowledge held by my classmates is mind-boggling, and it’s always a pleasure to tap it. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie and of being a team. We help each other out with projects and study, running tutorials or bouncing ideas off one another.

And a team is what you need on this course. There is a lot of learning in a short space of time. It’s doable but intense. It is also highly interesting and at least one lecturer had to curtail our numerous questions about the economy in order to cover the actual course material. The lecturers themselves are experts in their field, and not only academic but also practical having worked in the real world thus gaining credibility with a class of students that has many years of experience.

To summarise, doing this MBA is turning out to be the best decision that I could have made. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

(originally posted here on 8th December 2010)

The MBA is a wonderful course. The sheer amount of learning done in such a small space of time really opens the world for you. There’s so much learning that you want to share it with those around you – even if they’re not that interested!

An example of this comes from when we were studying the Elan case for our Financial Reporting class last term. I was lying in bed with my girlfriend…

“What are you reading?”
“It’s an interesting case study about a certain company and their accounting practices.”
“Oh, like what?”

She regretted asking that question as I launched into a description about joint ventures, Bermuda and the questionable ethics in management. I was fascinated with how they managed to make all of their R&D costs into either assets or income. I tried to explain it, but just got a blank look in return. The look was supposed to convey the idea of “I don’t care…” but I took it to be one of confusion and, therefore, assumed that I hadn’t explained it properly. It didn’t cross my mind that anyone would be less than enthralled by this story, even at midnight.

It was only as I reached for the pen and paper and offered to explain with the aid of diagrams that she finally snapped, told me that she was only being polite, and that I should now shut up and go to sleep.

What one learns on an MBA is indeed fascinating…for some!