Amazing Lessons in Leadership

Today was an incredible day at Yale SOM.  One of the classes I’m taking is Managing Global Catastrophes, taught by Jeffrey Garten.  We’re studying lessons of leadership from extremely difficult crises like The Asian Tsunami, AIDS, the famine in Somalia, SARS, 9/11, and Fukushima (to name a few).

Today we had the pleasure of meeting with:

It was amazing to hear from them about their experiences inspiring those around them.  From trying to end famine in Somalia, the tough decisions about capping the BP Oil Spill, and changing the culture in the army around PTSD, it was an incredible lesson in how to inspire and lead large organizations through some of their toughest days.

It was one of those days where I stop and think about how lucky I am to be a part of Yale SOM.

When are you at your best?

Even before I had started at business school, I received an email outlining an assignment that was to be completed in the first weeks of school.  It involved a lot of coordination and work to complete, yet helped me learn about when I perform at my best.  The course was Careers, taught by Amy Wrzesniewski, which helped students think about their careers and their professional goals.

I had to solicit feedback about when I was at my best from 10 people who were close to me and could give me very direct feedback.  It was purposefully different from the typical corporate feedback that I was used to working at PwC and Microsoft which focused on areas for improvement.  By canvassing your network to look at where you were at your best, the goal was to focus on those areas and put energy into them.  Instead of the typical “Dan did a great job and should look to improve by doing X, Y, and Z”, it was refreshing to hear how others perceived my accomplishments and saw how I added value to a team.  While we didn’t focus on the question of which feedback is best, I thought it raised an interesting question: should you focus on improving in areas in which you’re weak, or seek out opportunities that align nicely with your personal strengths.  While that’s still a question that’s up for debate, it was an incredibly helpful exercise and reading people’s feedback helped me hone in on opportunities where I could add value to a team.

One part of the course was to reach out and interview successful people in a field you’re interested in to learn about what they did that made them successful.  I picked someone I had no connection to – Rob Go – and I was surprised how easily it was to connect with him and how readily he shared his experiences with me.  Rob is a venture capitalist in Boston and I wanted to hear about how he decided he wanted to pursue venture capital.  It was very valuable to hear where I added value in the first assignment, and then speak with successful people in a field I was interested in.

The two assignments were very helpful for me because I was able to recognize and spot opportunities I would enjoy and professionally thrive, and also hear from someone very successful how they made it to their current position and how they perceived their journey.  Before reaching out to others to hear about their experiences, I think it’s incredibly valuable to understand what you’re looking for and where you can add the most value.

Sliding out of control

This post was originally written for the SOM community blog, located here.

When I first arrived on campus, I had a lot of items on my to-do list: refine my resume, network with students at SOM and in the larger Yale community, and try the best pizza slices from around New Haven. One thing I couldn’t wait for was to be sliding completely out of control.

I signed up for the Yale Hockey Club and it has been one of the best decisions so far in my SOM career (including the part where I slide across the ice).  Here’s the quick summary: students of all ability levels get together each week to work on our skating and puck handling, and then scrimmage across comparable ability levels.  After my first two practices, I can vouch for the fact that anybody is allowed to play, and that it’s a blast.

Some of my classmates played hockey in college and lead the instructional sessions on stopping, skating backwards, and puck handling.  Other friends have never skated before, and are good natured about falling over and their inability to stop.  I’m still getting my skating legs underneath me, and every once in a while find myself flying towards the boards, wondering if I’ll be able to stop.  When I’m not able to stop, it isn’t a big deal because I’m wearing a plethora of protective pads.

It’s a lot of fun to sit on the bench and cheer on my classmates as they fall over score goals, and to ask for advice from the more experienced players.  I can’t think of a better way to be spending my Wednesday nights, especially when I get to write blog posts fully decked out in my hockey pads.

Goodbye Microsoft. Hello Yale.

I joined FAST in September of 2008, excited about the opportunity to work at Microsoft.  Three years later, I have learned an incredible amount about search engines, engineering driven cultures, and what it’s like to work at a true technology company.  I am grateful to my wonderful colleagues for teaching me so much.

Leaving Microsoft was a hard decision, but I’m really excited about the next chapter in my life.  I’m starting business school at Yale, and I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities ahead.  In my first week, I got to:

  • Meet many of my new classmates
  • Visit one of the largest media conglomerates in the world and meet with their CEO for 2 hours
  • Enjoy happy hour on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

This was even before classes started (they start tomorrow).  I’m excited to be able to take advantage of one of the best universities in the world, all while enjoying the atmosphere of a close knit MBA program.  With that said, I need to go finish my reading for my first day of class.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

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