To the Harvard Business School MBA class of 2017: congratulations! You’ve earned a degree that is the envy of business leaders everywhere. It will imbue you with the golden brand of a gilded school and allow you easier entry into careers and opportunities. Some may say that your degree gives you the right to a “do-over” if you find yourself needing to switch out of your newly chosen careers. A more burlesque contemporary writer has even likened it to a “golden passport.” But the bottom line is that you have endured an educational experience that is objectively more intense than that of your peers at rival schools, you have built a veritable toolbox of general management skills, and you have had your world perspectives broadened by diverse classmates and foreign immersion.
Now the real work begins.
As you rejoin the workforce, we at The Harbus wish to issue you three challenges for guiding your professional lives after HBS. Think of it as a “post graduation checklist” where the poll submissions will come in the form of the newspaper headlines we read one day.
#1 Don’t feed the stereotypes. You probably knew many of them before you even applied: HBS students are flaky and disappear at critical moments. They talk a big game and then underdeliver. They have no loyalty and will switch jobs at a moment’s notice if they think it will provide a marginal benefit. They have little commitment and only do tasks that are expedient to their own promotion.
You know how annoying these stereotypes can be; the good news is that as a graduate, you get to be a foot soldier in changing them. You can be the HBS person who displays tenacity, loyalty, and commitment to something greater. You can be a team player instead of a self-promoter. Maybe this means doing more work on the front end to select the right career with a mission you can get behind. Maybe this means prioritizing your job selection for firms where your personal incentives will be best aligned with your employer. We think this will probably make you a better and more richly appreciated employee. It will probably bring you greater personal satisfaction as well.
#2 Don’t become the bad case protagonist. Obviously this applies to the cases of FRC and LCA where the consequences of being a bad protagonist often include prison time. In those instances, know where the bright red lines are and, in the words of good-case-protagonist former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, “stay far away from the lines.” This advice also applies to the cases of FIN and Marketing, where the consequences of a being a bad protagonist include needlessly losing value for your shareholders and destroying it through inaction for your firm. In these cases, adapt to change, be excellent at a few important skills, and be bad at none of them.
But most of all we think this applies to LEAD cases where the consequences of being a bad protagonist include creating a cruddy corporate culture, leading dissatisfied and unengaged employees, and generally being a jerk. Ask yourself at the juncture of every important decision involving the personal and professional lives of those you may be privileged to lead, whether the decision you are about to make would secure your place, simulcast into ten RC classrooms, as a good case protagonist or a bad one.
#3 Live your life off autopilot. HBS does everything for us. It’s marvelous in that way. The administration tells us where to sit, curates what to read, and counsels what to wear. For the past two years, our class schedules have been piped directly into our calendars and just about every event has been optimized for efficiency using every lesson of TOM. In this environment it’s been easy to live our lives on autopilot, only thinking as far ahead as the next task. While at HBS, those breadcrumbs led to your desired goal – namely, graduation and an acceptable job – the breadcrumbs in the real world are just scattered about the plaza. Use this lurch off autopilot to ask what it is that you really want to get out of life and whether the flow you find yourself in is really going to carry you there. Without that rudder, the tides will surely just carry you out to sea.
Congratulations class of 2017. You’ve been given amazing advantages here at HBS. Now go and make yourselves worthy of them.