Over the past 12 years, we at RTBA have participated in many activities in
support of the MBA programs at Duke and UNC. The courses have included
communications, ethics, and engineering management; judging the Carolina
Challenge and Duke Startup Challenge entrepreneurial competitions, and more.
Some of the students we have worked with are recent under graduates and others
are seasoned professionals, with as much as 8 years of experience, who chose to
continue their education. Over the years we have continued to observer new
approaches, actions, decisions and personalities from the students. But, there
are some common threads in these traits that have prevented the students from
achieving the most out of their classroom and project work. What follows is my
attempt to summarize some of those missteps in the hopes that it may help you
avoid some of the same pitfalls.
What We Can Learn from Duke and
UNC MBA Students
Millennials are technology and
social media focused. Over the years, many studies have shown that
communication that is done face-to-face has the opportunity to be 100%
effective. Likewise, communications over the phone, where you canít see the
person you are talking to, are at best 20% effective. And, most of that
communication comes from tone not the words. The reason: much of our
communication comes from body language and facial expressions. When
evaluating effectiveness of email, text messages and other electronic media
the effectiveness of the communication drops to a paltry 5% to 10%.
Improve your communication by avoiding electronic/social media and get
What you think is true, may not
be. Often we get trapped by thinking we have the answers. We find
ourselves asking our friends what they think, and weíre happy when they
agree with our thinking. What did you expect? You are comfortable with
them because they think like you. You might be surprised at the answers you
get from strangers, clients, competitors, high school students and senior
Always ask questions to confirm your thinking Ė donít ask your friends,
look for dissenting opinions to strengthen your decisions.
You canít do it all yourself.
Even if you could, you donít have the skills, desire, inclination, time, or
energy to do it all. Why do you think you have heard so much about team and
teamwork? Itís about getting help and support, and giving help and support.
Itís about the value of alternative opinions and collaborative creativity.
Donít let your ego get in your way Ė ask for help.
If itís obvious, itís not the
answer. There is never enough time to do the due diligence thatís
required. So, we take shortcuts and often stop our analysis when we see an
obvious problem or solution. The issue is that the problem we often see is
just the tip of the iceberg. What we donít see is the root cause of the
problem Ė the 80% of the iceberg that is under the water.
Build sound results from sound due diligence. Donít stop digging until
you find the root causes.
Sell your vision and ideas.
When you share your idea, solution, plan or actions they may not be accepted
by your audience. The reason? You didnít justify your statements, you were
not understood, you were not believed, or other disconnects occur. You canít
tell people what to do and expect them to do it if they donít buy in.
Share your thought processes, involve your team in decision making,
justify your solutions, consider cost, cash flow, and ROI in your decisions
and how you sell them.
Your experiences donít
necessarily bring the best solutions. Your experiences are from a
different time, a different situation, a different company and an
environment with different people involved. So, a solution based on your
experiences may not be the best solution for the current situation. Wisdom
is getting more input even when you have all the answers from your
Use your wisdom to ask questions, get input from others, and find better
When you think you have the
answer Ė maybe not. Again, because we are so busy we are tempted
to stop looking for a solution to a problem when we find the first
solution. How do you know itís the best solution if you donít have any
others to compare it against? In fact I believe the first three solutions
you come up with are motherhood and apple pie throw away solutions. They
show you have just begun searching.
Throw away the first three solutions you come up with and pick the best
of solutions 4, 5 and 6.
Nothing good happens without
effective communications. A common thread in 1, 2, 5 and 6 above is
effective communications. This includes all forms of communication Ėverbal,
written, electronic, etc.
Use feedback methods to confirm understanding between yourself and team
Help your teammates. Itís
often forgotten that if you want someone to help you, you have to help them.
Quid Pro Quo. Some books on leadership talk about ďServant Leadership.Ē The
servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people
develop and perform as highly as possible.
Give unto others, so they will give unto you (support you).
Write down your plan on paper.
If your plan is only in your head, every time you communicate it to a
different person it comes out just a little different. Thatís why it looks
like everyone on the team is moving in a different direction. If the plan is
on paper, everyone you share it with sees the same plan. And, donít forget
that no plan is ever done. Update written plans as often as necessary.
Write it down, review it regularly, update it often, and never stop
looking for better answers.