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Alumni Achievement Awards Recipients Return to Discuss LEAD Case

Under the moderation of Professor Bill George, the 2005 Alumni Achievement Awards recipients (Rahul Bajaj, MBA 1964; Nancy M. Barry, MBA 1975; Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., 1965; Judith R. Haberkorn, 111th Advanced Management Program, 1992; Joseph J. O’Donnell, MBA 1971) formed a panel to discuss the effectiveness of different leadership styles in the case of “The Tale of Two Coaches”.

The case of the two coaches, Coach Krzyzewski and Coach Knight (and his infamous “choke”) was familiar territory for the mainly RC crowd who filled the Burden auditorium last Thursday afternoon to attend the Forum organized by the HBS Leadership and Values Committee. Indeed from the spirited responses from those who were cold-called by Professor George during the opening few minutes, (by some fluke, eighty percent of whom were from one section), Coach K and Coach Knight were able to provoke provoked deep reactions and polarizing views.

Students’ reactions to the panel discussion were varied but most agreed that the diversity of the panel added to the richness of the discussion and that using a case as the basis for the discussion on leadership was very effective. Moreover, once the panelists actively took up different stances on the styles of the two coaches, the discussion very quickly led to a debate over the importance of performance over to the means used to generate the results and the relative importance of public opinion.

Some students were pleasantly surprised by the raw honesty of the answers from the panelists. Others expressed disappointment that the discussion skimmed the surface of the issues in the case, and quickly lost focus, degenerating into a discussion on leadership in general. Yet, despite the usual platitudes around leadership qualities, a few messages resonated enough to leave lasting impressions on the students this writer spoke to (no small feat given how difficult it was to grab the attention of tired students in a dim, slumberous room on a Thursday afternoon!).

1. Use your common sense, be courageous and be flexible
For all the high-flown, grandiose attributes we ascribe to leadership these days, we often forget that a good leader must first and foremost be a practical person who uses common sense. It was thus refreshing to hear that Rahul Bajaj, the Chairman of Bajaj Auto, judged potential leaders for his firm by their ability to think and act with common sense. Judith Haberkorn, the former President of Consumer Sales and Services with Verizon Communications, highlighted the importance of adapting your personal style based on the situation and the people you are dealing with. Courage, passion and patience were some of the other qualities brought up as vital traits of an effective leader.

2. It is never too early to start developing your successor
Succession planning is hardly on the minds of HBS students just embarking on their leadership development tracks. Yet Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the former Chairman and CEO of IBM, strongly advocated thinking about the development of the next generation of leaders at an early stage. He shared the strongly held belief that the most effective leaders were almost always internally developed within the organizations they served in; CEOs for instance, should be appointed from within. More importantly, he believed that once you have found a successor, you should “get out of the way” as soon as possible.

3. Identify your core values and stick to them
Rahul Bajaj and Nancy M. Barry, President of Women’s World Banking, both emphasized the need for a set of core values to live by. These values would guide one throughout a successful career.

Perhaps the biggest takeaways from the event, however, are these – do not ever forget how to apply the case method and be prepared for the cold call. You will need these skills when you return to HBS for the Alumni Achievement Awards someday.

October 11, 2005
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