Playing the Part
Illustration by Brett Ryder

Playing the Part

Welcome to the Tipping Point, a dynamic, role-playing challenge that brings together students and alumni to explore the art of leading under pressure.

For Booth students, a recent series of interactive sessions gave real-time lessons in how decisions are made at companies.

The sessions are part of the Tipping Point program, which is all about role playing. Teams of students are cast as employees and consultants tasked with convincing often recalcitrant corporate executives—played by alumni—of the need for change in their operations.

The program, named after the author Malcolm Gladwell’s book that explores how ideas gather force and eventually go viral, is an offshoot of Booth’s required Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) class.

“It was interesting in terms of putting yourself out there and learning how to work with people you don’t know all that well and in situations where you have limited information,” said Full-Time MBA student Cass Gunderson.

For alumni, however, it was more like a blast from the past. “When I asked people who they based their characters on, they all said the same thing: ‘I used to have a boss like that,’” said Tomer Yogev, ’10, cofounder and chief maverick officer of TandemSpring, a Chicago-based leadership coaching and consulting firm.

Brendan Joyce, ’06, agreed. “It was a bit of acting, leaning into those roles,” said the entrepreneur and former vice president of Chicago-based Mattersight Corporation. “But I think that added just enough anxiety to make it real.”

I loved meeting the students and my fellow alums and being in this sort of intellectual playground where students explore real-world management issues.

Kenyata Martin

The students constructed their arguments from packets of information they had received on various troubled companies. (The companies were real, but identifying factors had been edited out.)

Afterward, there was a feedback session, where the alumni offered insights into what the students did right and where they needed to improve.

The four sessions were held the third and fourth weeks of October at the Charles M. Harper Center and attracted 144 students.

The program gets high marks from alumni. “Programs like this that combine the benefits of increasing soft-skill expertise with more sustained ways of getting alumni involved are a win-win
for everyone,” said Joyce.

“I loved meeting the students and my fellow alums and being in this sort of intellectual playground where students explore real-world management issues,” said Kenyata Martin, ’09, managing partner of Thought Process, a consulting firm in Chicago. “It’s a great introduction to the Booth MBA program.”

Yogev said the Tipping Point, which began several years ago in a somewhat different form, points to the value of developing empathy and emotional intelligence among executives.

“I would say that 90 percent of the students got it right in terms of what their companies should be doing,” he said. “The struggle for many of them was conveying that information in a concise and compelling manner. That’s where the art of leadership comes in, and the fact that they are learning that in their first semester at Booth is a step in the right direction.”

Yogev added that the feedback sessions were especially important. “They’re so rich and valuable. Here’s a student who is five or six weeks into his or her MBA experience and is talking to multiple alumni who have not only completed their MBAs but have anywhere from five to 40 years of experience in the business world. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime networking opportunity.”

 “It’s the kind of experience you’re not going to get just from going to lectures and company-sponsored events,” said Joyce.

Martin noted that alumni also benefit from participating. “It’s an educational experience for the students but it’s also an opportunity for the alumni to sharpen and refine their skills,” he said.

The response from students has also been positive. “I thought the alumni did a great job of pushing people out of their comfort zones but not going so far as to make it a completely uncomfortable experience,” said Gunderson.

“It was definitely difficult, but what made it easier was working with other students,” said Full-Time MBA student Lauren Campbell. “We were able to bounce ideas off of one another and figure out what we thought was the best way to approach the issues.”

Martin agreed, saying, “No matter how business and technology evolve, the leadership responsibilities and personal dynamics you learn in programs like Tipping Point are always going to be applicable, irrespective of the business model.”

—By Robert Sharoff