Leadership Fellows is an innovative group mentorship program for final year MBA students that offers motivated students direct contact with high-level executives and entrepreneurs, intimate roundtable discussions, interactive practice developing leadership skills, and the ongoing support of a mentor. I had first heard about the program from my best friend, who graduated from Stern. He ranked the program as one of his top three experiences at Stern. I started my MBA with absolutely no corporate experience. It was my goal to take advantage of every single opportunity the school offered to develop leadership skills and business acumen. My friend’s ringing endorsement of the Leadership Fellows program was all I needed to hear to know that it was something I wanted to do.
Being part of club leadership at Stern provides you with some great advantages. (I could not recommend enough becoming really involved with a club at Stern.) One of those advantages is hearing about opportunities such as Leadership Fellows (LF). I was invited to apply due to my involvement in The Oppy. Fortunately, during my time at Stern, the rules changed and Langone students were allowed to take part in LF if their work schedules would permit. The application process involves an extensive short answer application and a 45 minute interview. Each applicant is asked the same questions and their answers are evaluated using a rubric. Answers are based on the criteria of demonstrated interest, leadership style, ability to contribute in team setting, self-awareness, and extracurricular impact…you know, low-lying fruit questions. Kidding aside, it wasn’t terrible and the interviewers are so personable, which makes it an enjoyable conversation.
If accepted, candidates are put into cohort based on availability of designated dates. The number of cohorts vary year to year, but there are about 12 students in each cohort. There is no denying that LF is a time commitment. It is one full Friday a month with mandatory attendance. In the beginning, it felt like a lot. I was the only part-time student in a group with nine MBA2s, who seemed to already be best friends. All of that soon changed as we got to know each other.
Each session has a theme, with the first one being getting to know each other by sharing our lifeline stories – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is an agreement at the very beginning of the program that everything you hear in LF is confidential. While there is nothing natural about opening up to a room full of strangers, it soon became quite evident why each person there was picked to be in the program. Everyone had so much empathy and asked thought provoking questions.
The second session focused on other people’s perceptions of you that you may not be aware of by soliciting friends and colleagues to give insights of strengths that you have. It was an uplifting exercise but I also really enjoyed the Stern alumnus who joined us that day. Every session has a guest speaker, who is or has been an executive or in senior leadership. That day we had a Stern alumnus, who was one of the first 100 partners at Goldman Sachs before becoming CEO of two smaller investment firms, and now invests in high social impact/sustainable startups. It was motivating to hear about his professional journey. He has since become a professional contact (another great benefit from the program), who connects me with people running interesting healthcare startups, because he knows that’s what I am passionate about.
The last session of the fall semester focused on assessing our values and how they come into play in our professional development. The goal of the first semester is introspection and enhancing self-awareness, so that in the second half of the program, we can focus on sharpening leadership and interpersonal skill sets. The themes of the second semester consisted of managing up and down, advocacy, and leading groups. We practiced these abilities using actors, who were adjunct faculty at Tisch, by being given scenarios that we had to navigate as leaders.
The acting was a weird concept to me that made me feel uncomfortable at first. However, that is what LF is all about, pushing through discomfort to become more purposeful. Surprisingly, I started to enjoy these activities more with each session. I think that was partly due to the fact that I became so comfortable with the people in my cohort. I was not worried about embarrassing myself acting as a manager discovering discrimination in the workplace or a COO managing layoffs. I was so focused on the objective at hand and knew my fellow leadership fellows were doing the same.
The best part about my experience was the people. I know I am biased but the MBA2s in my cohort are exceptional in every way. They are driven, smart, witty and fun. Eight hours on a Friday in a WeWorks conference room in midtown was actually enjoyable with them around. None of this would have been possible, however, without our incredible program chair, Paula Goldfarb. Paula led our cohort with adeptness and finesse. She was continuously taking and incorporating our feedback to make our experiences better. She brought out the best versions of us, through her unwavering faith in us. She was forever patient with us, turning a blind eye when we were running late, to me sleeping with my eyes open post night shift, or us sipping away on Gatorade, trying to restore ourselves from Beer Blast the night prior. She is a leader and overall person that we all aspire to be more like. She is one “badass motherrunner.”