5 Things I Learned from an Evening with Harry Davis and Linda Ginzel

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As a student at Chicago Booth, your journey is almost certain to be influenced by professors Harry Davis and Linda Ginzel.

I had the pleasure of attending a recent fireside chat with these two professors. The conversation was insightful, the mood was cheery, and the takeaways were profound. Linda and Harry are distinguished leadership experts, and they are also dear friends, which made for an organic and candid conversation. We were listening to two close friends talking about the risks they’ve taken and the inspirations they’ve drawn from. The lessons they imparted on us weren’t just leadership or MBA lessons – they were life lessons.

The Same Behavior Doesn’t Work in All Contexts
Just because you handle a situation one way at work doesn’t mean the same strategy will work at home, at another job, etc. You have to be flexible and adaptive, and consider what situation with what goal, with what audience. Never assume there is only one way of tackling everything in life.

Business Policy vs. Leadership – What’s in a name, anyway?
Harry Davis had the room laughing when he explained why he uses the term “business policy” instead of “leadership.” Frankly, “no one has a clue what business policy is,” Harry said, so just by changing the terminology, he’s activated the curiosity of his audience, and eventually, they are having a conversation. In leadership roles, Harry said, it’s important to honor some degree of ambiguity or openness that allows people to connect to a strategy in their own way. “Words are so critical,” he added.

People With No Titles Can Have Incredible Ideas (i.e., check your ego at the door)
Everyone at the table matters, and everyone with stake in a project has a voice. There are people at organizations who have no title whatsoever, but can have an incredibly powerful impact on that organization. Never discount anyone’s ideas just because of their title or lack thereof. Harry Davis said when he was developing the LEAD program for Booth, instead of collaborating with the top faculty in a glassed in office, he gathered students and staff members around his desk and sourced ideas and inspiration. He wanted to see the impact that could come from such a program instead of simply developing lessons in a corner office.

Think Without Labels
Linda Ginzel said, “when we have a label, we frame our thinking.” That includes stereotypes we form in our minds. When you think about a manager, what do you visualize? Is it a middle-aged professional in a white shirt and/or suit? And what is (s)he doing? Sitting behind a closed door? That’s probably the most common perception of the word “manager,” but a manager is actually a leader, someone who is out leading their teams, supporting their ideas, encouraging innovation. It’s important to clear our mind of all preconceived instances. Have an open mind and give everyone and every idea a fair chance!

You Just Have to Try Things and Break the Norm
An idea will never work if you don’t try it. Do something different and see what happens. Try to say “yes” more often than “no.” At Booth, we are all about questioning the status quo and taking risks. New programs would never have come about if someone didn’t ask “what if we did...?”

For example, take the Executive Education Program here at Booth. Linda Ginzel once had an offer from another university to develop a 10-week executive, non-credit-bearing program. When she approached the Dean (aka her boss) about the offer, he simply said, “well, why don’t we do that here?” And just like that, Linda was designing the Executive Education Program for Chicago Booth! And it was all because of an open mind and the willingness to test out something new. As Linda said at the fireside chat, “think of how people’s lives change because of what they don’t do.”

I walked away from the evening feeling refreshed and introspective. I felt the stress and pressure I often put on myself alleviate. Their stories and insights made me feel comfortable, even excited, about taking risks. I am excited to continue my own leadership development path and now feel comfortable veering of course, as that may lead to the best outcome.

Hannah Kohut is associate director of marketing for the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA Programs.

Choosing Leadership by Linda Ginzel, PhD

Linda Ginzel recently published her first workbook, "Choosing Leadership," where she debunks common myths about leaders and encourages you to follow a personalized path to decide when to manage and when to lead. It's full of thoughtful exercises and activities to help you mine your own experiences, learn to recognize behavior patterns, and make better choices so that you can create a better future. Learn more!