Women for Change: A Lesson in Determination and Perseverance

This post was written by Lauren Masters, Emily Klein, Meryl Schneider, Caitlyn Kenney, Maggie Robinson, and Alyssa Schuetz of the Class of 2019

What started as an idea in September turned into the first formal public event hosted by The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program’s Women for Change group. Seven months ago, Lauren Masters, a current student of the SI-MBA program said, “I think Holly Dowling would be a great speaker to catalyze and legitimize our group within UVM’s Grossman School of Business and the greater Burlington community.”

With this goal in mind, a group of six women combined their skills, experiences, and minimal free time to jumpstart a new endeavor. The event planning committee included current MBA students Emily Klein, Lauren Masters, Caitlyn Kenney, Alyssa Schuetz, Meryl Schneider, and Maggie Robinson. Little did they know the amount of grit, determination, and perseverance that would be needed to legitimize the Women for Change’s first event held for the Greater Burlington community.

Throughout this process, students learned valuable lessons on how to navigate the world of fundraising, legitimize a club on campus, and overcome challenges that arose in unexpected places. As time passed and checklists seemed to grow, the planning proved to be difficult as students juggled their full-time schedules. There were even moments when they questioned whether, or not they would be able to pull-off the event.  Ultimately, the cumulative shared values of the planning committee proved to be enough as the group banned together until the very end.

On March 21st, over 50 young professionals, business leaders, and SI-MBA students alike were able to see this event come to fruition. Henry Vogt, a SI-MBA student said, “I found the Holly Dowling event to be fun, exciting and inspiring. Not only was it a great networking opportunity, but it was also exciting and thought-provoking. When Holly presented it felt like she was speaking directly to members of the audience. She offered perspective and inspiration on how to be successful, depicted personal stories of how she persevered through adversity, and gave tips on how to live a more fulfilling life. Additionally, it was very impressive that this event was organized by a passionate group of women MBA students, who put in a massive amount of work to successfully fundraise and organize an excellent event.”

As the adrenaline wore off, this small group of women looked at this event as one of the many highs of their overall SI-MBA experience.  Grad student Lauren Masters adds, “We knew we were all working towards a bigger picture of empowering female leaders not only within our cohort but also the greater Burlington community area and beyond. We hope that some of the key insights gained from this event will stick with attendees throughout their careers.”

For more information on the specifics of this event, please check out the following article: Leaning In

MBA Women for Change Hosts Holly Dowling

This post was written by John Turner, Marketing & Media Relations Specialist at the Grossman School of Business.

In a recent study of women in the workplace by McKinsey & Company, the consulting group reported that while for the last four years, companies have reported that they are highly committed to gender diversity, that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level, and only about one in five senior leaders is a woman.

With that as the backdrop, the role and empowerment of women in the workplace was addressed by globally renowned leadership speaker Holly Dowling recently at a special event in Burlington.

Hosted by the MBA Women for Change, a student group of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the Grossman School of Business, and Westport Hospitality, guest speaker and change management and leadership expert Holly Dowling led a spirited conversation about women in leadership at the Courtyard Marriott in Burlington.

The event was the brainchild of the MBA Women for Change, a group started in the fall of 2018 to promote and advocate for gender issues in the workplace within The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The idea for the event gelled when a personal connection to Holly Dowling surfaced, and the group saw the opportunity to host an event that not only started a conversation around these issues, but was an appropriate way to widen the discussion out into the community, strengthen relationships with other organizations such as the Vermont Women’s Fund, as well as raise the profile and awareness of the program itself.

“Holly was a perfect speaker for us, having an aligned focus and goals of getting women into leadership as a conversation and she gave us this gift with her time and energy to be able to come here,” said organizing committee member Emily Klein ’19.

Meryl Schneider ’19, another committee member said,“it was great to be able to invite other women from all over the community, friends and family, and men, to this event to take part in something like this.”

The event also provided a platform to build bridges, extending the network and encouraging collaboration. Alyssa Schuetz ’19 noted, “it was great being able to establish relationships with other community groups like the Vermont Women’s Fund, the Burton’s women’s group as well as with our donors, to further connect and establish lines of communication.”

She continued, “We deliberately invited men and asked Holly to tailor the conversation so that it was inclusive to all genders, so everyone could get the benefit. Because we know that it’s not just the women who have to make a change, men are a huge part in this. We wanted to make it as open and accessible to as many people as possible.”

Emily continued, “I liked Holly’s message that companies are letting go of diversity and inclusion and are now only talking about inclusion. Because how far are we going to get if there’s all these separate interest groups with all these separate conversations? Acknowledging diversity and creating pockets within an organization is not fully solving the issue.”

Meg Smith, Director of the Vermont Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides support for women’s economic self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and an event sponsor said, “this event that brings people together to have a conversation is important as everyone gains strength from one another. The realization that by collaborating, the sum is greater than the parts. There is an ongoing need for women in the workforce, and to create an inclusive, friendly workplace. My organization is focused on positive change for women, but it cannot happen in a vacuum, you cannot do it alone.”

With the success of this initial event, the group hope to continue their work including hosting guest speakers from the Women’s Center and an International Women’s Forum dinner with PhD students and the dean from UVM’s Rubenstein School. The group also realize that with The Sustainable Innovation MBA program being just one year, it’s a challenge to maintain momentum from cohort to cohort.

They plan to stay involved after graduation and provide assistance wherever possible, as some from previous cohorts have done, and hope that future cohorts will continue to build out the work of the group, and keep advocating and pushing for gender issues and equality.

We’ve Reached the Summit!

A closer look at the Appreciative Inquiry Summit hosted by the Class of 2019

This post was written by Tor Dworshak, Maura Kalil, Billy Rivellini, and Alexa Steiner of the Class of 2019

Tuesday, April 16th saw the culmination of significant learning and hard work in our Driving Sustainable Change class with Professor Ante Glavas. The Class of 2019 hosted an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit on the topic of creating high quality post-Sustainable Innovation MBA experiences for alumni of the program. Participants included the current cohort, numerous alumni, and faculty.

Planned and executed by our cohort, the summit was a lesson in leadership, facilitation, event management, and the AI model. AI is a stakeholder engagement model to facilitate strengths based understanding of change management opportunities that exist in an organization. Each of the learning teams were given one of ten tasks to execute that day, and if we may say so ourselves, our classmates crushed it! As we will become alumni of the program in the coming months, the topic of the day was extremely relevant and important to all of us.

The day began with an explanation of the “chaordic” space we were all about to occupy. What is “chaordic”? It is the combination of chaos and order; a space that allows for creativity and experimentation within the boundaries of some structure. With an emphasis on strengths and opportunity, the AI summit was organized into four phases, each of which consisted of different thought-provoking questions, innovative challenges, and creative activities. The Discovery phase of AI is about appreciating and focuses on the best of what is. The Dream phase is about envisioning, with an emphasis on results and impact. The Design phase is about co-creation and co-construction. Finally, the Destiny phase is about sustaining, and how to empower, learn and improvise. Each team played their part, fulfilled their role, and contributed to the overall positive experience that day. We received incredible feedback about the positive and productive nature of the conversations. The day also gave the current cohort and alumni a chance to really work together, getting especially creative with the prototyping of ideas in the afternoon’s Design phase.

“It was really cool to see how the students took what Ante had taught them and within a few short weeks, were running an appreciative inquiry summit themselves”, said Erik Monsen, professor in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “They demonstrated how clear their learning had been because they were able to teach the rest of us and guide us through the AI process that day.”

“I was delighted by the creativity and the power to generate ideas demonstrated by everybody in the room during all of the phases,” said Joe Fusco, Director of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “The format of the summit and the AI process really highlighted the potential in the program’s existing strengths.”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA network is truly special. With a focus on cohesion and collaboration, there isn’t much room for competition, though there was definitely some friendly competition during the summit’s Design phase. There was so much creativity and warmth in the Keller room that day and we, the Class of 2019, are grateful to Ante for giving us the opportunity to put our learnings into practice and lead this summit. With only a few weeks of classes left, the Class of 2019 has also reached the summit of our year in the program. So with that, we want to thank everyone who participated this year and wish the best of luck to the class of 2020 in their future summit planning!

Single-Use Plastic: Why Recycling is Not Enough

This post was written by Meg Nadeau ’19

During a recent Driving Sustainable Change class, we implemented the methods of Design Thinking to try to answer the difficult question, “How might we reduce the consumption of single-use products at UVM?”

This is a question I have tried to answer for myself on many occasions: How can I change my behavior so that I can reduce my consumption of single-use products? By single-use products I mean any product designed specifically to be used once, then discarded, simply to be replaced by another single-use product.

I used to believe that as long as I recycled the plastic I was using, I was doing my part. However, I have realized that recycling is not enough. There is a reason why the phrase goes reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing and reusing come before recycling because that is how to make the most positive impact.

Recycling is better than not recycling, don’t get me wrong, but the current recycling process has many inefficiencies. First, containers must be clean of contaminants. In a full bin of recycling, items that are not recyclable — contamination — weaken the marketability of that material, and those items wind up in a landfill anyway. If the plastic does end up going to a recycling facility, it takes large amounts of energy and resources to transform it into a product that can be used again. Monitoring and collection, transportation, and the recycling manufacturing process itself all contribute to this energy and resource consumption.

The molecular makeup of plastics makes it very difficult for it to be broken down and transformed back to its original product, like a water bottle being turned back into a water bottle. Instead, recycled plastic is usually used for secondary reprocessing which turns the recycled plastic into a plastic product that cannot be recycled. This repurposing of plastic is better than just throwing it in landfills, but its footprint should not be minimized. There must also be demand for the recycled material for this process to really be effective. Many recycling programs are operating at a cash loss on a regular basis, which is not sustainable for the long-term.

So, what is the solution to this? Recycling used to be seen as the solution for all of our waste. But, that is just not enough if we plan on saving the planet. The real solution is to not create the need to recycle in the first place. Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics, or better yet, don’t use single-use plastic at all. Nobody is perfect, so if you do buy plastic try to reuse the item as many times as you can. Get creative with it! How many new uses can you get out of a plastic product? But, since the goal of this post is to reduce the consumption of single-use products, I am going to leave you with some tips that have helped me.

  1. The Grocery Store: Single-use products are everywhere here, from lettuce wrapped in plastic, to eggs in plastic casings, to meat packed in plastic bags. Become mindful of your purchases at the grocery store. Start your grocery shopping the right way by remembering to bring your own shopping bags- this will set you up for a successful grocery shopping trip right from the start! Put your produce in these reusable bags instead of putting them into the small plastic produce bags and try to buy produce that is not already wrapped in plastic. Choose cardboard over plastic whenever possible. Cardboard is generally easier to recycle and tends to biodegrade more easily. So go for the eggs in the cardboard casing, or the pasta in a box instead of in a bag, or detergent in a box instead of a bottle.
  2. The Bathroom: Look in your shower and count how many plastic containers are in there. Is there a way you can change your purchasing behavior to find products that don’t come in plastic? Can you refill glass containers with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash? There are companies, like Lush, that are selling solid shampoos and body washes that do not have to be contained in a bottle at all. Instead of buying disposable razors, try switching to a razor that lets you replace the blade or, even better, get a straight razor. Instead of shaving cream, try coconut oil. And if you really want to commit to a sustainable shaving experience, don’t shave at all! There are many alternatives to your plastic toothbrush, as well. Try going with a wooden toothbrush, one that you can just throw in the fire when it is time to get a new one. While we are on the topic of teeth, have you ever tried tooth powder? You can make your own at home with baking powder, salt, and essential oils for flavoring. You can also buy pre-made tooth powder from brands like Uncle Harry or Aquarian Bath.
  3. The Kitchen: Plastic has inundated our kitchens in the form of plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and plastic storage containers. Instead of using plastic wrap, use jars or glass containers. There are also some innovative companies, like Bee’s Wrap, that are coming out with reusable food storage solutions. Instead of plastic baggies or plastic containers, why not use a glass or stainless steel bento box? If you’re feeling extra brave, bring these out with you when you know there will be leftovers. Instead of relying on a restaurant to provide you with a single-use container to-go, complete with a plastic bag, opt to put the food in your own container that can be reused over and over again. Try switching to wash cloths instead of paper towels. Paper towels come wrapped in plastic and can only be used to clean up one mess. Wash cloths can be used over and over again and just get thrown in with the rest of the dirty laundry when they need to be washed.

The Mission, and The Team

This post was written by Cameron McMahon ’19.Cameron served 4 years active duty in the US Marine Corps infantry, deploying twice.

There is a lot of discussion about mission-driven businesses and millennials being attracted to working for them.  Along with this come conversations about how to build up your people and create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. This has been causing me to reflect on my time in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and how we built and managed teams.  Shared hardship tended to be the element which rapidly allowed the willingness to form for us to perform well together.  As I am working on starting my farm business and considering best practices for finding and hiring people to help build the business, I am trying to think deeply about the type of culture I want to create. 

In the USMC the mission was always provided to us and there was a clear rank structure and roles within that which existed for eliminating uniqueness. There were jobs to be performed and the expectation was that you performed your role and anything else simply wasn’t an option. Extremely high rates of burnout are the norm for junior ranks with this treatment.  However, we accomplished the mission and pushed our limits far beyond what we had previously thought possible. We as a human community are facing grave threats in the next several decades that will decide whether or not we are able to continue living on this planet. It is difficult to find the language in a civilian setting to pull the best lessons from the USMC. How to translate the brutal methods and speech for rapidly binding teams together who are willing to work through pain, exhaustion, and fear to run through calf- deep mud filled with mines toward the multiple machine guns firing at you and your friends to a business setting?

I don’t pretend to have any firm answers to these questions. In the process of trying to figure it out though, some things have been clarifying. Motivation is encouraged when people are able to feel a sense of ownership over the process as well as the results.  Having a sense that you are part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal that serves humanity in useful ways helps to make the day to day tasks required for job performance gain deeper meaning and purpose. Hope works better than fear for motivating people to perform at a consistently high level over time. 

Facing the myriad challenges from threats such as climate change cannot be done effectively if people don’t feel as if a better future is possible and their actions matter in creating it. Just as there is no place for cowardice on the battlefield and those who are unable to push through their natural hesitation to endanger themselves are removed from roles where they will get others killed; it is necessary to identify those in an organization who are not bought into the mission and cull them from the team. To create a culture of willing high performance there should be rewards for the victories and the failures in order to encourage everyone to stretch themselves and not fear failure. Great ideas won’t come out if people are afraid of the consequences of failing.  An organization, culture or person who is unwilling to change is more of a problem than a solution.  As Darwin said, “The species best able to adapt is the most likely to survive.” and as we say in the Corps, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.”

Net Impact: Wear-it-Wise Fashion, but Make it Sustainable

This post was written by Alyssa Schuetz ’19

I may only be 23 years old, but I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to change the fashion industry for the better. My bachelor’s degree is in Design & Merchandising which translates loosely into the business-side of the fashion industry. After working in product development in sports apparel, I saw the shortcomings of retail and knew that I couldn’t enter the industry knowing that I would be part of the problem. I am determined to be part of the solution and create a positive impact on the industry.

When I joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I knew my direction was always going to be about fashion.

I just wasn’t sure which form that would take until I came across the non-profit organization Net Impact. Turns out, they have a specific program dedicated to promoting sustainable fashion called Wear it Wise. I immediately reached out to the program because I knew I had to be involved.

As a grad student, I knew this would be a huge opportunity for me to share what I am passionate about on a larger platform. This program is sponsored by Levi’s, Colombia Sportswear Company, and Eileen Fischer. Knowing that these brands are innovators and already making a difference in the sustainability space, I knew that this platform would provide me with more skills and tools to further a cause that I was already passionate about.

After being accepted into the Wear It Wise program, I started crafting my social media campaign to give people an inside look as to how they can shop more sustainably. My goal throughout this campaign has been to empower the consumer. In my experience, the fashion industry is at a crossroads where the industry is aware of sustainability and knows that it will eventually have to become greener, but it’s still lacking that final push to implement change. I believe that we as consumers carry immense power to vote with our dollar with every purchase we make. We have the power to be this push that retailers need in order to convert to more sustainable practices.

I’m excited with the power we have to wear our values and make our impact in the retail industry. Please follow along my journey on social media as I continue to share my passion with all of you and inspire you to make your own impact!

Impact Investing for a Greener UVM

This post was written by Peter Seltzer ’19, Andrew Oliveri ’19, Maura Kalil ’19, and Matt Iacobucci ’19

At the beginning of the academic year, Finance professor Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein introduced an opportunity for us all to spearhead the first Sustainable Innovation MBA impact investing project. The goal of the project was to show the University of Vermont Treasurer’s office how to build a short-duration fixed income impact portfolio that meets its fiduciary and financial constraints.

Given these parameters, our challenge was to build a portfolio comprised of socially and environmentally responsible fixed-income investments that would contribute to making a positive global impact in the areas of our choosing. A group of thirteen Sustainable Innovation MBA students* have been working collaboratively to come up with investment criteria to build out this potential portfolio of bonds for consideration. Through working closely with Chuck, the Sustainable and Responsible Investing Advisory Council (SRIAC), and the UVM Treasurer’s Office, we are now positioned to make our recommendations to the investment manager to implement this strategy.

*Andrew Mallory, Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Alyssa Stankiewicz, Esteban Echeverria-Fernandez, Emily Klein, Keil Corey, Maura Kalil, Matt Iacobucci, Noelle Nyirenda, Peter Seltzer, Ryan Forman, Tor Dworshak (in no particular order — EDITOR)

Coming into The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, many of us were novices to the emerging field of impact investing. To build our knowledge and immerse ourselves in this new subject, we began organizing and attending weekly learning sessions. Our resources have included articles and research tools, but most significantly, the book The Impact Investor by Jed Emerson, a prominent leader in this field. These resources provided the foundation for our impact investing toolkit that has aided us in determining our impact objectives and screening criteria for the project. Next, we had to learn the tools that investors use to search for and make judgments on assets in real-time.

We trained ourselves to use the Bloomberg terminal, a powerful tool for investors in providing access to real-time financial data. Each member of the impact investing team completed the built-in Bloomberg Market Concepts digital learning tutorial, with particular attention focused on fixed income securities to build out our general investing toolkit. While identifying whether each bond under consideration held the financial metrics needed to fulfill the fiduciary obligations required of the portfolio for the University, we also used the ESG terminal function to help objectively measure the non-financial impact that each bond holds. The ESG function provides non-financial Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics for companies and bonds, which proved to be an invaluable tool for our research process.

While the whole impact investing team was expected to have a solid understanding the “impact” side of the equation, a subgroup of the team has been taking additional advanced finance classes with Chuck on fixed income investing and portfolio management to master the “investing” side. There, this subgroup has been learning key concepts to help the whole team take the next steps towards building a portfolio that is financially sound and well up to the University’s investing standards. This diversification within our team allows for an overall focus on portfolio impact, while the more specialized subgroup could also incorporate the principles of a financially successful portfolio that was consistent with the investment policy statement and integrated impacted criteria.

During our early coursework in The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we learned how many companies have been aligning their business models and sustainability initiatives with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Thus, we wanted to incorporate the concept of impact learned through the program’s curriculum to maximize our portfolio’s impact. As a group, we brainstormed SDGs that were not only important to us but those in which we saw the most potential for global impact. From that list, we selected three SDGs that we determined were best aligned with UVM’s mission and brand image: Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, and Gender Equality.

The first SDG we focused on was ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. We looked to find issuers who not only decreased their water usage relative to competitors but also considered the ‘usage relative to revenue’, which was found to be a helpful feature of the Bloomberg terminal. Similarly, it was important for us to find issuers who not only were mitigating negative impacts but rather having a positive impact with regard to clean water stewardship efforts. With a number of UVM students intimately connected to Lake Champlain and its surrounding ecosystems, we realize clean water to be a paramount goal of our investment council.

The second SDG we focused on was ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. We determined that impact within this goal can be derived from companies producing sources of clean, affordable and renewable energy, as well as companies sourcing their energy from renewable providers. Companies that our investment council considers for investing need to be making investments in clean technology and energy efficiency, or investments in affordable energy storage technology. In addition, a company meets our criteria if they have a large green power purchase agreement, or is in a contract to source a majority of their energy from a clean, renewable energy source.

The third and final SDG we focused on was achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This SDG was particularly important to our group as many of our group members are part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Women For Change group on campus. The team developed the following three objective criteria that the corporations offering the bonds should meet for portfolio consideration: female representation in senior management (at least 33%), proven efforts to create equal opportunity for female employee advancement, and women in leadership (CEO, Founder, Chair of the Board).

The thirteen of us have learned much through the process of working on this project, and we are grateful for Chuck, SRIAC, and the UVM Treasurer’s Office for the opportunity. This was a completely voluntarily effort outside of the regular class schedule and curriculum of our academic program. We are fortunate to acknowledge that the dedication of time and effort towards this project has rewarded the members of our team with a new degree of fluency in the field of impact investing and perhaps even more rewarding, a feeling of accomplishment for having the potential to make an impact in alignment with the SDGs and UVM.

We look forward to taking the next steps with this project and seeing how the recommendations of our team might be utilized by the University and beyond. As we have with this project, we are excited to continue finding new ways to incorporate our learning from each and every subject we are exposed to here in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, building out our sustainable innovation toolkit even further as we progress into the new year.

Onward!

Sustainability 3.0

This post was written by Meryl Schneider ’19. The Sustainable Innovation MBA features various Innovators-in-Residence over the academic year.

According to Innovator-in-Residence Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, organizations go through phases when implementing sustainable practices which he called “Sustainability 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.” Beginning his career at Intel as an Environmental, Health and Safety External Affairs Manager, Stangis’s initial role transformed into Director of Corporate Sustainability where he spearheaded corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies in response to growing societal concerns of Intel’s environmental, social and economic impact. From there, Stangis’s growing passion for business and sustainability landed him a job at Campbell’s, where he has developed and led the firm’s widely known CSR, ESG and sustainability strategies.

Stangis explained the three evolutions of sustainability, beginning with phase one, where most companies find themselves today. In this initial phase, companies focus on reducing costs through eco-efficiencies, risk reduction, and strive to do less harm via environmental stewardship. In phase two, sustainable corporate strategy is respected but can be siloed from the strategy team. Organizations adopt triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) considerations when evaluating their performance to create greater business value. Phase three sounded like the “ah hah” moment where firms make strategic sustainable business decisions that are imbedded in business strategy and anticipate sustainability challenges instead of reacting to them. Businesses strive to challenge their model in 3.0 with objectives to solve complex social, economic and environmental problems as a product of the business itself.

How does Sustainability 3.0 impact Campbell’s and the food industry? For Stangis and Campbell’s, he is undoubtedly striving to be a Sustainability 3.0 company as a major player in the food industry. Stangis argued that ethical and environmental considerations no longer “just” feed into the Campbell’s strategy but are becoming the company’s strategy. As he put it, the potential challenges the food industry is facing are daunting. Climate change is affecting global food systems while the world population is growing at an accelerated rate. Stangis painted the picture for the future of food and how Campbell’s will ultimately predict, adapt, and strategize their business model into evolving into a 3.0 firm. He explained that by utilizing technology, finding long-term resiliency in regenerative agriculture, and by aligning business objectives with the United Nations Sustainable development goals, a company like Campbells will continue to evolve and innovate as the competition for resources intensifies. Stangis embraces the unknown and ultimately understands that disruptive forces are looming. It is how companies choose to react and grow sustainably from the disruption that will count.

Leadership: A Module Two Course, a Seminar-Series, and Some Preconceived Notions

This post was written by Danielle Davis ’19

Leadership has always been a topic that intrigued me; its definition different for each person that encounters it. In module two we had a formal course titled Leading for Sustainable Innovation with Kenneth De Roeck, Ph.D. as well as a seminar series that stretches across all 4 modules with Joe Fusco, accomplished business leader and The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program Director.

Leading with Kenneth was a formal 2-credit course with two exams, some reflection papers, hundreds of slides and a daily-Stromae video. The material, although intuitive, proved to be difficult to memorize. We discussed leaders in the field of organizational leadership, their theories and some student testimonials that fleshed out the concepts learned in class considerably.

The seminar series with Joe is an ongoing two-hour session with Joe, reviewing higher-level concepts with real-life examples from an expert in the field. My desire to learn more about leadership stems from a curiosity to figure people out, find out what motivates them, and learn how to help them become the most productive member of a team that they can be. To me, it was and still is about leading by example, and as an introvert I thought at times doing so silently would suffice.

MBA 302.04: Leading for Sustainable Innovation with Kenneth

Initially the concepts presented in class seemed intuitively foreign – does that even make any sense?! Until stepping into this course, leadership has been woven into various summer jobs and internships, my previous job in the “account leadership” department at an advertising agency, and throughout various sports endeavors. Until this moment, though, I had yet to see leadership concepts formatted in a PowerPoint or scribbled on a whiteboard. It felt counterintuitive initially. My preconceived notions about leadership were that it was a skill learned through experience, and that’s how you made personal improvements. I was skeptical that this was something that could be learned through a text book. Going in, I was more so thinking this would be equivalent to reading a self-help book. I was excited to see how it would go nonetheless.

Leading for Sustainable Innovation ended up being one of my favorite classes. Seeing a familiar concept fleshed out, explained in depth, proved (through student testimonials, personal reflections and long-standing industry theories) to then understand it on a deeper level and be able to apply it in the world around me. It was great. There were several few high-level takeaways from this course, but I keep the following flashcard(s) in my backpack while the others have made their way into the recycling bin.

The 7 qualities of an effective/exemplary leader as told by Kenneth and his collection of theorists:

  • Stress tolerance (being comfortable with uncertainty, proactively cope with stress)
  • Self-confidence (having high self-efficacy about ability to lead others + achieve objectives)
  • General cognitive ability (above average cognitive ability, can process a lot of information + analyze scenarios + opportunities)
  • Energetic-ness (ability to work long hours, passionate, + always “on”)
  • Emotional intelligence ability* (self/other awareness: strong interpersonal skills (e.g., conflict management, empathy))
  • Integrity* (an aspect of trustworthiness, aspect of ethical leadership)
  • Drive (based on purpose and passion, inner motivation to pursue goals + encourage others to pursue their goals, high need for achievement)

*Integrity and Emotional Intelligence being the most important aspects of effective leadership

The Leadership Seminar with Joe

The leading seminar with Joe includes lessons learned through business. It’s a personal testament to the intricacies of leadership from the perspective of someone with a high level of experience. The dos, do-nots, and the as told by Joe Fusco, someone with decades of experience being and dealing with leaders of all kinds. Joe emphasizes the importance of self-reflection in a leadership role. He uses the “Head, Heart, Hands” model to ask the leader to look within. Check in with yourself cognitively (head): have you learned anything, are you frustrated about something? with your body (hands): have you been sleeping well, getting enough exercise? and emotionally (heart): how are you, do you miss someone or is there any conflict on your mind? Until you are secure with these three facets of yourself, it will be difficult to lead others.

Thus far, the optional sessions have included 2-3 broad topics expounded upon throughout our morning together. Joe speaks of his personal experience with good and bad leaders, his experiences as a good leader, and some moments of personal improvement. Substantial takeaways included:

  • Asking others to reflect on strengths and weaknesses
    • Crave feedback and receive it gracefully + with gratitude
  • Impact vs. Intention
  • Head, Heart, Hands

We learned that your intention is less than half the battle. Even if you have the best intentions, it’s likely your impact on others through your words or actions are not exactly how you intended them to be. Check in with your peers early and often. Ask for feedback. Crave feedback. Receive feedback gracefully and with gratitude.

Preconceived Notions Through Work and Athletics

Thus far I’d done some internalizing – who are my favorite leaders and why? What did they do, and why did I work hard for them? This geared my focus to checking in outside of work, making the work and our relationship personal so they would find themselves more willing to work hard for me. I wanted to be someone that they can count on within the bounds of the court, but more importantly off.

At the end of the day, it’s the people that matter. The work and the wins are important, but if your employees don’t want to be there – how high quality can your team’s performance really be?

In the minimal management experience that I do have, I’ve found that my sport experiences came into play perhaps more than anticipated. My leadership style in short:

  • Lead by example
  • Challenge your peers – are they working to their potential? Why/why not
  • Make it personal – establish a relationship, find out what their goals/aspirations are within the work and outside of it
    • Be honest, transparent and loyal

Before starting the program, my impact on others was not truly a consideration, feedback not craved, unintended consequences not whole heartedly acknowledged. A silent, lead-by-example leader may be appropriate in some scenarios, but a takeaway from the previous 2 months in this program has taught me that I can’t rely on this entirely. As learned through feedback inquiries, seminars and course materials my intention will not always be clear with this style and it’s going to be an uncomfortable rise into my potential as a leader. Challenge accepted! 

As the leaders of tomorrow, the next generation of business leaders, disruptors, innovators, and visionary entrepreneur or intrapreneurs, I’m very grateful that leadership has been so intricately intertwined into the SI- MBA program. Reflecting on my time in this program thus far, I realize although we have these formal leadership allotments in our schedules, these concepts are woven into each course seamlessly.

With bigger things on our mind, from climate change, to inclusive hiring, we need to be wary of our impact but more importantly to be proactive and not miss out what can make our break a business venture of any sort: being an effective leader. A leader is constantly learning and iterating to make themselves the most dependable, effective team member. Mastery of this may be unachievable, but there are endless things we can do to improve and iterate on our abilities as leaders.

Photo by mehul dave on Unsplash

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Jeffrey Lue

Hailing from the Washington D.C. area, Jeff graduated from the University of Maryland in 2011 with BS degrees in Operations Management and Finance. Jeff joined Accenture in 2012 as a management consultant. During his six-year tenure with the company, he worked with several clients on a variety of projects ranging from enhancement valuations to change management. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I’ve been searching for an MBA program for quite some time, but was having difficulty finding one I was excited about until I cam across The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. I knew that I wanted to incorporate sustainability components into my career, so this program felt like the perfect fit for me.

What has been your favorite part of the program thus far?

I think the access to amazing people doing inspiring things in their career. It’s been great learning about all the potential routes my career can take.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. Be prepared to work. This program is no joke. 2. Be prepared to have your mind opened to new possibilities of how the world can work. 3. Be comfortable with seeing the same people. In the same building. In the same room. Every day. Hopefully they’re great like ours are.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA program benefitted you so far?

It’s opened my eyes to the way business can and should be done. I see even more opportunities to utilize business as a means to change the world, more so than I did when I started the program just a few short months ago.

Anything else?

Vermont is also awesome, so if you’re not familiar, you should make a visit.