I am not a morning person. It’s not that I won’t wake up early. Years of working have permanently reset my internal clock to awaken before 8 a.m. However, just because I’m awake that doesn’t mean I am functional. 8:30 a.m. classes do not agree with me, and I tend to take advantage of any day that I can laze in bed till noon. Saturdays are supposed to be that day, but this past weekend it was not meant to be. Self selection and the nomination of my peers had me representing my cohort in the annual Leadership Challenge. Leadership Challenge is part of Booth’s LEAD program. It is an all day case competition judged by distinguished Booth alums. More importantly, Leadership Challenge is an inter cohort competition with points, bragging rights, and cash prizes up for grabs. So of course I want my team to win.
While Leadership Challenge seemed like a ton of fun on paper, in reality the experience was about as fun as being in front of a firing squad. Participants weren’t privy to too many details prior to the competition. All we knew was that each cohort’s team consisted of 14 people who would be divided into two 7 people squads. Within the squads four people would work in teams of two and the other three would work individually. The cases would not be known until the competition.I envisioned the day to be a series of presentations by me and my teammates to a panel of judges.
WRONG!I should have known that no Booth activity would involve passive listening. To my surprise the cases weren’t meant to be presented, they were meant to be played out. Yep, when the case reads, “You’re the new CEO and you’re meeting with your executive team,” when you walk in front of those judges you are the CEO and they are your unruly team of discontented execs. I think I was most amazed by how well the alumni played their roles. I was particularly enthralled by the “head of marketing and sales” who felt he should be celebrated for bringing in $4 million in business in the four months since he joined the company, but should not be accountable for failures to communicate with his colleagues since he had only been with the company for four months.
Being the person in the middle of the madness that the alums were a bit too gleeful to enact felt like being a deer in headlights. Their questions and objections came at me so fast that everything I’d learned from nearly ten years of work experience completely escaped my mind. I spent more time reacting than acting. When it was over I felt like I had been bludgeoned by Ali, Tyson, Frazier, and Balboa. The feedback me and my partner received was surprisingly positive given how awful I felt things went.
I think it took most teams a few cases to realize that we weren’t students when we were in front of them. We were their colleagues (and in some cases their boss). However, once people got into the right mindset it was a hoot to watch them tell an alum, “I’m in charge now!” When it was all over I felt that my team performed really well over all. With the exception of my case everyone was able to close their deal. It was still impossible to know our position relative to the other cohorts because with the exception of one joint case we never got to see any other team’s cases. When we won one of the individual “best case” awards I knew we had a shot at winning the whole thing. We came pretty close with a second place finish!I’ll take that!
The day didn’t end there. It also was the night of the annual Belgian Halloween party (no Belgians were harmed during the festivities). I had to put together a costume at the last minute because the one I’d originally planned didn’t come together in time (or I procrastinated for weeks in putting it together and refused to pay Amazon’s exorbitant shipping fees to get the components to me in time). It turned out my last minute costume was a hit. While it wasn’t the most practical getup (I had to strip in the ladies room because my costume wouldn’t fit in the bathroom stall), it was definitely an attention getter. People were taking pictures with me all night and I think I may have spied someone recording my spastic waltz with Tony Montana to “Don’t Stop Believing.” I was even a finalist for best costume and came thisclose to winning the whole thing. However, I maintain that the voting was a bit unfair since the eventual winners got a second round of voting to break the tie, but I did not. I wound up with a prize anyways. For now I am perfectly content to have a lock on second place.