Tag Archives | Stanford

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays

MBA leadershipI am not a very good athlete, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when I decided to pick up a new sport. I decided to learn to row – not in a traditional rowboat, but in a long skinny shell with two 10-foot oars. It isn’t that hard, except you’ve got to do a few things right or you end up in the water.

But to really enjoy it, at least for me, I had to accept the fact that I was a novice.  And that meant not expecting myself to get it perfect from the very beginning.  As I found myself cursing my inability to square my blades, I realized that my mind was not allowing me to enjoy what should be a serene, zen-like experience.

I was guilty of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset instead of the more constructive “growth” mindset.  Dweck is an authority on things like brain science and learning. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she describes the growth mindset as a far superior method for transforming effort into success.  The growth mindset allows you to focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility for results.  A growth mindset keeps you from saying, “I’m a natural-born loser,” and instead saying, “I need to work harder at this.”  In a growth mindset, people are not afraid to make an error, look silly, or show a deficiency.

The growth mindset represents a key leadership characteristic.  It’s no surprise that since 2015, Kellogg’s MBA program has this preface to one of the application questions: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? 

Dweck’s decades of research are particularly relevant for people aiming for business school.  The growth mindset resonates on a strategic level, considering the personal leadership attributes sought by admissions officers of most business schools. It also resonates on a tactical level, in studying for the GMAT or GRE.


The Strategic: Leading
Business schools seek out people with attributes that will make them leaders who will change the world for the better. They are looking for people who don’t give up and see hurdles as a challenge. They want people who can learn from others to improve themselves and their environment.  I worked with one student, now on his way to Wharton, who appeared on the surface to be an all-or-nothing high achiever. At first, he looked like the “typical MBA,” never a good sign. But later, in his application and interview, he mentioned something both disarming and revealing: he never learned to swim. So as an adult, he decided to jump in.  When discussing his recent lessons in swimming, he said “It is never too late for a fervent beginner.” That’s the growth mindset.

The Tactical: Testing
Standardized tests demand a growth mindset. The computer-adapted tests, which give you harder questions if you answer right and easier questions if you score wrong, can send the fixed-mindset student into a failure spiral that will ruin any chances of a decent score.  The growth mindset, however, allows the student to work toward mastery. To put the time and the effort into learning the material and the process.   The growth mindset allows the student to embrace the possibility that skills can be learned (they can), and that sustained effort (and a good coach) leads to accomplishment.  The person with a growth mindset loves to conquer a challenge, while the person with the fixed mindset demands perfection right away.

There may have been a time when business schools were looking only for people with natural-born talent.  But as the world has changed and management science has evolved, MBA  programs want growth-mindset types in their classes. They want people who are willing to try new things, and are prepared to not be perfect the first time out.  They want people who think of themselves as works in progress.

And that’s why learning a new sport (or skill, or technique, or trick) isn’t so bad. I know I was clumsy and got it all wrong with my first attempt at rowing. But no harm done.  I’ll just keep trying until I get it right.

Whenever that may be.

What We Can Learn From Graduation Speakers

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN13 - Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook, USA; Young Global Leader Alumnus gives a statement during the session 'Women in Economic Decision-making' at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2013. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo Michael Wuertenberg

Graduation time ushers in an optimistic feeling. It’s a time of celebrating achievements, and more, it’s a time of opening up the world for tomorrow’s young adults.  No wonder it’s called “commencement.”

For those taking steps toward a business career or hoping to embark on an MBA program, you can draw upon that wisdom as you reflect upon your own experiences and goals.  What better way than to learn than from leaders who have been through good times and bad, and are willing to tell their stories.

The very best speeches are great because they show honesty and humility; they are not empty exhortations for how to live a perfect life.  These speeches offer great lessons for emerging leaders, and are especially inspiring for business school applicants.

Business schools are looking for authentic, genuine leaders, and the speakers – and their lessons – profiled below, inspire some soul-searching and self-reflection required to become a successful MBA candidate.

Let’s take a look at four memorable speeches and lessons learned.

1. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO – Speaking before Harvard Business School’s Class Day, 2012

Sheryl Sandberg, a 1995 graduate of Harvard Business School launched into a tale of success  first by explaining that when offered her first job at Google, she thought it did not
meet any of her career criteria.  But she was lucky to take some great advice from Google’s CEO, who told her, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

For those about to embark on something bigger, especially an MBA program, Sandberg is living proof that you have to take chances.  Look for ways to jump on opportunities — even if the next job doesn’t have all the trimmings you need, maybe you just need to go for it.

2. Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State –Speaking before Southern Methodist University, 2012

No one’s story is more inspiring than Condoleeza Rice, the granddaughter of a sharecropper who turned to “book learning” and sired a family of educators. As a former diplomat and policy maker, she admonished her audience to have passionate opinions, but look beyond the echo chamber. “When you’re absolutely sure that you’re right, talk with someone who disagrees.”

So if you’re working on the coolest new product that you think can’t fail, do some market research. Get a second, third, or fourth opinion – preferably someone who has no stake in your success.  Learn how to take feedback and work with it.

3. Conan O’Brien, TV host—Speaking at Dartmouth College, 2011

Conan used to be on top of the world, but then, went through what he calls “a profound and very public disappointment.”  Then
he made his own version of success.  He tried new things. And it liberated him.  As he said in his commencement speech last year, “It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a profound catalyst for reinvention.”

Not getting what you want teaches resilience and propels you forward. Many business schools, notably Harvard Business School, want students to reflect on times when things don’t work out. Own up to your failures; tell yourself the truth. Oh, and by the way, make sure you do make mistakes—otherwise you are simply not living.

4. Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple—Speaking at Stanford University, 2005

The late Steve Jobs discussed mortality openly at Stanford’s commencement six years before he succumbed to cancer.  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

A business career, with or without an MBA, is about big dreams and goals.  Importantly, it’s about your own dreams and goals, not anyone else’s.  Jobs didn’t listen to conventional wisdom.  And that’s why he is considered a visionary.

You deserve nothing less for yourself.

–Betsy Massar

10 Tips for Getting Into Business School — Tip 10: Be Yourself

Happy August! Believe it or not, the summer is almost over — but not yet, so no need to be needlessly stressed. I’m finally going to discuss the 10th, and final tip of the 10 Tips to Make Your MBA Application Rock. It have been trying to stretch it out by interspersing with other blog posts, but now it’s time to wrap it up. (All 10 Tips can be found in the PowerPoint of the presentation I gave to 85 Broads. You’ll also find links to the first nine of the 10 Tips at the bottom of this post. )

The last of the 10 Tips is the most obvious: Be Yourself. I know it seems like a cliché, but I have heard admissions officers say over and over that they want to get to know YOU in the essays. Allison Davis, Associate Director of Admissions at Stanford GSB wrote those very words most recently in her July 7 blog post, even calling them “corny, but true.”

Get Real
The only way for you to do that is to show your authentic self. Not the person you think the committee wants to read about. I guarantee this one fact: YOU are more interesting than that mythical person. They want to read about your successes and foibles. I recall Peter Johnson, of Berkeley’s Haas Business School, remarking that he loves reading the stories where people learn from mistakes or failure. Those stories show a lot about a person’s true character. Remember, every business school class is made up of human beings, and the more you show who you really are, the more you will stand out from the crowd of generic applicants. No kidding.

If anything, this is the most important of all the 10 Tips. You can Start Early, Take Inventory, Connect with Your Inner Rock Star, Explore Career Paths, and Perform Service.  You’d be well-advised to Stay Sane , Daydream, Talk Around, and please, Work Only on what You Can Control.

But none of these 10 Tips will get you what you where you want to go unless you are the real you. So speak from your heart, be authentic, genuine, and just plain you.

The floor is yours.

The Greenest MBA Programs

A number of business schools are leading the charge in teaching, research and student activities related to sustainability. These efforts fall into three broad categories: environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and social enterprise. Fifteen outstanding “green” programs are profiled in the article at the following link.

Click here to read article: The Greenest Programs