I come from an industry that gives sideways glances at the mention of an MBA. “Tech moves so quickly,” I was advised. “It won’t be the same when you return. Taking two years away from the workforce is risky.” The MBA isn’t exactly praised in Silicon Valley. But it was a risk I was willing to take on two years Harvard Business School, primarily because I believe this degree is still relevant, regardless of industry.
What surprised me most about my time at HBS is that the curriculum is incredibly relevant to all leaders, and will be a gift that continues to materialize through future years. Some people pursue an MBA because their professions require it; others because they are looking to switch careers; and yet another cohort seeking to formally build upon business skills obtained on the job. And although I had received advice that I could learn both the hard and soft skills on the job at a startup, nothing can replace two years of the personal and professional growth I did here at HBS.
There are three major aspects of the HBS experience that confirmed for me how valuable getting an MBA can be, and I’m grateful for the two years I spend absorbing that knowledge.
First, the MBA at HBS emphasises leadership, and is an incomparable immersive study into how to become a leader. Few young professionals get to sit in the chair of an executive: making difficult decisions, managing teams, and executing a strategy. Every day I could walk into the classroom, put myself in the shoes of a case protagonist, and decide exactly what I would do and how I would do it. It also meant living with the consequences of that decision, something all leaders must face in their careers.
For me, learning how to be a leader and how to be led were the primary reasons I chose to attend HBS, and is critical for anyone interested in seeking to make a difference in the world. Some of the most important leadership lessons I gained during my time at HBS came from the Leadership and Organizational Behavior class in the RC year. We learn that leadership is not only about the traits of the leader herself, but also about the people who surround her.
There are moments for different styles of leadership, and the classroom and field work is a great way to take risks and experiment with those without making mistakes in an actual organization first.
The second reason an MBA is so relevant is that HBS is a place and time to search for authenticity. The HBS curriculum, and in particular classes like Authentic Leadership Development, are about self-reflection. Authenticity is a critical part of leadership, and the course taught me how to re-center myself when I stray from that authentic path. I leave HBS believing that I understand my purpose better than I did entering, and have the tools to continue on that path of exploration.
Finally, the most irreplaceable aspect of the MBA are the people you meet and the friends you make during the experience. Before I came to HBS, I heard stories from friends and mentors about the importance of the connections people made during their time in business school. What I did not appreciate until I got to Harvard was how irreplicable it is to have the experience of hearing perspectives different from my own, meeting people from all walks of life, and embracing the diversity of the student body.
The MBA has taught me not only how to see many sides of the same problem, but also important it is to include voices different from my own in every conversation. I feel lucky that I friends from all walks of life who can continue to teach me in years to come.