Student Perspective: Will we be diverse leaders?

“True or false: I have worked in at least two of the three major sectors in our society (business, government, non-profit).”

This was the first in a series of questions posed to Wharton MBA students at a recent guest lecture that I attended by Nick Lovegrove. Mr Lovegrove, Senior Director at the Albright Stonebridge Group and Director Emeritus of McKinsey and Company, is an active proponent of the need for “triple strength leadership”.

He makes the compelling case that solving every major challenge our society faces, and even leading any multinational company, increasingly requires the ability to work across sectors.

The students in the room agreed with this in principle, but questions quickly emerged about existing barriers and perceived professional risks to crossing sectors and industries. It got me thinking about just how close our MBA class actually is to making this vision of cross-sector leadership a reality.

I can empathize with my peers’ concerns. My first job out of college was in healthcare consulting, and after a few years I wanted to transition to working in global public health. To my surprise, I had a hard time convincing non-profit organizations of my value proposition when I wanted to make that sector shift even so early in my career. What ultimately helped me was finding a team led by someone who had worked across sectors herself and appreciated its value.

“[A tri-sector athlete] can appreciate the needs, aspirations, and incentives of people in all three sectors and speak their language…Our research suggests that people who have succeeded in crossing sectors have had notable careers as leaders. ” – Triple Strength Leadership

As MBA students, it is natural to focus on our selected industries. However, I think we can and should do a better job of appreciating the importance of breadth of experience. Penn has a tremendous array of resources to facilitate this, including frequent events hosted by the Public Policy Initiative, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership, and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative amongst others.

Possibly the most valuable resource though is our classmates. Often when I explain my previous work experience to peers, the response is “right, so social impact stuff.” Likewise, when someone tells me about their work managing fixed income securities, my brain buckets this as “finance stuff.” We need to make a concerted effort to learn about and appreciate our peers’ diverse range of expertise.

Even if you don’t have plans to switch sectors or industries, this opportunity to learn about their importance is invaluable. Referencing the idea that ‘chance favors the prepared mind’, Mr. Lovegrove emphasized that crossover leadership opportunities will only come your way if you are open to them.

As Wharton students, we are in the fortunate position of being able to help craft the future of leadership both in business and across society’s challenges. We can start this by embracing the wealth of experience that is already around us.

Pooja Shaw, WG'15
Pooja Shaw, WG’15

Pooja Shaw is currently a first-year Wharton MBA student and a Social Impact Fellow with WSII. She has worked in the private and non-profit sectors, and is focused on opportunities to create ‘profit with a purpose’.