Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Caren Explains the Harbus Case Study

On Monday The Harbus released an HBS-like case study I penned called "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" which explores perceptions and opinions about student leadership at HBS. [I would link to it but The Harbus did not post it online]. The Harbus editor-in-chief has put out a call for reactions/case analysis, so I thought now would be a good time to provide some context to the case, too.

As explained in the footnote, the case is not intended to serve as an "endorsement, source of primary data or illustration of effective or ineffective leadership," but rather inspire conversation within the community around the case. Why? Well, because many similar conversations were already happening behind closed doors -- between both students and administrators. The impact of J-Term, the recession and social traditions were being called into question. I was also hearing complaints from both RCs and ECs about the state of student clubs, but there was no formal place to come together and talk about these concerns.

To form the case study, I solicited feedback from both RC and EC students across 20 interviews, including an EC-RC focus group. The students I interviewed included current and incoming club officers and SA presidents, student committee members and apathetic MBAs alike. I also compiled as much historic data as I could get my hands on about the demographics of the HBS community, which was harder than I thought it would be (thanks, WayBack Machine).

I very purposefully wrote this as a case study, not an editorial, for two reasons. First, because coming out with an editorial and saying "Ah-ha! I know what's going on!" would be both counterproductive and nearly impossible, especially because I'm not even sure this is a real problem. Second, as you see within the case, there are too many variables to prove definitive causation or correlation, especially across the more qualitative data. We can't even agree on what "leadership" means. Still, I think it an important issue to think about.

As one of my classmates said, MBAs are very good at "planting a stake in the ground and defending it." Think about how many different opinions are shared over the course of a case discussion in Aldrich Hall... if we all had the same viewpoints or opinions, we wouldn't learn anything. Just as with any case we study in the classroom, The Harbus staff and I hoped this "case" would cause you to think about and defend your own opinions.

It would not be an appropriate case discussion without true case analysis, though, so I would encourage ECs, RCs and faculty to share opinions by filling out this (secure and anonymous) poll to The Harbus Editor or simply having conversations with classmates.

What does "leadership" mean at HBS? I'm not sure... but this is how I choose to be a leader, and I hope the case study helps people think about what it means to them.

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