Managers manage, leaders lead and problem solvers problem solve. In an organizational context, much of the work managers, leaders and problem solvers do relates to reacting to or preventing a failure of some kind. Couple this situation with the daily bombarding of bad news from multiple sources – newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet; and before long, we find ourselves focusing only on failures – the organizations’, co-workers’, family members’ and our own. Moreover, I believe that such focuses make us quick to criticize others, as well as ourselves. Self-criticism that focuses only on failures leads to an imbalance in the perception we have of ourselves, one that is more negative than positive. MBA students are not exempt from this imbalance and one way of balancing this perception is for them to develop a greater appreciation for their accomplishments.
Rebalancing first requires that we convince ourselves that our perception is not balanced. For those of you that need convincing, let me ask you to conduct a little, two-part experiment. Part 1 is to time yourself while you reflect on the past twelve months and list on a piece of paper twenty things that you consider your failures. Quickly, list the first things that come to mind. When you add item number 20, record your lapsed time at the top of the paper.
Now for part 2, time yourself while you reflect on the past twelve months and list twenty things on another piece of paper that you consider your successes, accomplishments or achievements. As with part 1, quickly list the first things that come to mind. When you add item number 20, record your lapsed time at the top of the paper.
Now, compare the two times. Which part took the longest to complete? If you are like most people, it took you longer to list your accomplishments than your failures. In most cases, we have to stop and think about our accomplishments. On the other hand, our failures are foremost in our mind and are easier to recall, which is suggestive of an imbalance.
MBA Programs Can Contribute to the Imbalance
MBA programs can contribute to the imbalance, as well. Three of the more common ways this happens include:
- Curriculum and Course Design – The MBA curriculum’s design generally focuses on failure, with the objective being to learn from the mistakes of others. While this is a worthwhile aim, support materials, such as case studies, articles and book chapters tend to reinforce the negative with an analysis of what went wrong and how to avoid the same mistake in the future.
- Individual Self-comparisons – MBA students are in a situation where they can compare themselves and their performance to that of their peers. Such comparisons have the potential for creating a negative self-image. For example, a student makes a good presentation and another student thinks to him or herself, “I’ll never be able to make a presentation that good.”
- Individual Student Assessments and Feedback – In an academic program, assessing performance, by its very nature, is negative. Faculty members typically provide feedback that focuses more on where the student failed to meet the standards and less on where he or she met or exceeded the standards.
While MBA program design could address imbalance issues, it is more likely that individual MBA students will have to develop their own approaches for dealing with their programs’ contributions, as well as other contributing factors to their imbalance.
Celebrate vs. Acknowledge and Appreciate
One approach to rebalancing one’s perspective is to acknowledge one’s accomplishments. While there are many ways to acknowledge what you accomplish, two groupings seem appropriate for the purposes of rebalancing: shared acknowledgement and private acknowledgement. The shared grouping is more appropriate for a celebration. Headline events or major accomplishments fit into this group – promotions, closing a big contract, graduating, births, etc. – and they typically involve others as part of the acknowledgement – a special dinner with friends, drinks at a local bar with co-workers, etc. The energy and internal, feel-good component of the celebration is generally short-lived because the focus quickly shifts to other daily living and work activities.
The daily living and work activities are where we spend most of our time and energy. These activities usually appear on the daily to-do lists that no one ever sees, they are not headline items and, therefore, not worthy of celebration. Yet, we do them routinely without recognition. While it would be good if others acknowledged us for doing these things without fail, it rarely happens. The alternative is some form of private acknowledgement. Private acknowledgement is the mechanism for patting yourself on the back, building confidence and creating the internal energy and motivation to accomplish more. The problem with private acknowledgement is that most of us do not know how to do it.
Fortunately, learning to privately acknowledge and appreciate the non-headline work one does is simple. It starts with a question, which can take on a number of forms; for example: 1.) What did I accomplish during the past week, month or year? 2.) What contributions did I make at home and work during the past week, month or year?
Answering a time-bound question similar to one of these often results in a surprising outcome; you are doing and accomplishing far more than you think you are. I know that this happens from experience. I was surprised when I answered a similar question while preparing my Best Year Yet Plan, a program I introduced the MyeEMBA readers to a few months ago. I had not realized how much I was doing for family, friends, a multitude of others and myself. This was an important personal finding and it also helped explain why I am always busy.
MBA students should learn to appreciate the many things they do on a daily basis, for which others seldom acknowledge their efforts. Doing so helps rebalance the all-too-often negative perceptions they have of themselves, and it provides the pat on the back that can help them accomplish even more, as well as to advance their careers to the next level.
About the Author: Dr. Rodney Alsup is the creator of the MyeEMBA blog. His goal is to help MBA students live and work smarter while they earn their MBA.