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Executive MBA Advice from a Professor

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You will be a different, better, person when you graduate in two years. But how do you get the most out of the executive MBA experience? How will you succeed? How will you get your money’s worth? I offer three tips:

1) Be Intentional

As Yogi Berra said: “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.”

Self-assess and set goals. As you get caught up in the avalanche of readings and homework assignments, it’s easy to lose sight of why you applied to business school in the first place. Take a moment to reflect on what you want to get out of business school, and why. What are the roadblocks to achieving your goals? Be honest — write down what you want to achieve over the next two years and how you plan to get there.

• Prioritize. You will quickly find that there are not enough hours to do everything at school, at home and at work. Let your goals guide your decisions on what to prioritize.

2) Be Curious

You are, temporarily, in a unique environment — lots of new ideas, people and experiences. Have fun!

Be open to new ideas. Yes, you know your function and industry, but I’d guess that you only know a small slice of that world really well. So, please do share your perspectives and experiences, but also open your mind to new approaches and ideas.

• Try different things. Are you an introvert? Ask to present the team’s findings in class. Are you an accountant? Don’t volunteer to do the financial part of the project — work on marketing instead.

• Don’t network, make friends. Ask your classmates about themselves and be interested in their answers. You may never again be immersed in such an interesting group of people — make the most of it!

• Read the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal every day and ask your professor questions about things in the news. Challenge your professor if you don’t agree — you’re in school to learn and lively dialogue is one of the best ways to do that.

3) Be Brave

Remember, as Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

• Don’t overthink. “Analysis paralysis” is real. Yes, do the analysis, but also trust, and train, your instincts. Mix it up in your group and in class. Ask questions, play the devil’s advocate. Climb out on a limb and have fun!

• Develop presentation skills. Suffer from glossophobia? For many people public speaking ranks below getting a root canal in terms of enjoyment. The good news is there’s a safety net. No one expects you to present like Tony Robbins. Give it a try. Then try again, and again and again. Only repetition and reflection on how to improve will work. You can’t just read about how to present (or just watch videos of Robbins in action). With practice, you’ll learn the ropes and become comfortable shining in front of a group.

• Banish doubts. Remember, you deserve to be there. Stay confident, stay brave.

Warren Strickland

Warren Strickland is a lecturer in the Executive MBA program at the UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management as well as a senior adviser to and director emeritus of McKinsey & Company Inc. In addition to teaching, Warren consults with leading global companies and serves on boards of directors.

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