Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Making Leadership Personal

Daniel Dillard
Daniel Dillard
By Daniel Dillard, MBA’16

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will." —Greg McKeown

The longer I’m a Kelley MBA student, the more I realize the power in asking questions. Questions of professors. Questions of prospective companies. Questions of classmates. Even learning how to ask questions about the questions others are asking me.

No questions, however, are more difficult than the ones I have been forced to ask myself.  Non-prescriptive questions like:

• How did I get here?
• What are my innate qualities and why do they matter so much to me?
• How do I transfer these qualities into being an engaged professional, husband and father, and an all-around purposeful human being?
• What do I have to consciously trade off in the process?

As a member of the Kelley Full-Time MBA Leadership Academy, I have had the privilege of coaching first year students—individuals and teams—through the rigors of their first semester (which includes the Integrated Core, networking with companies, resume building and mock interviews). I also have opted into the responsibility of coaching myself through a multi-session series on personal visioning. More than anything, it has been a place where I have had permission to ask those difficult questions that I would have never otherwise asked. To that end, it has been both a safe haven and a danger zone.

No two personal visions are the same, but I’ll share a simple anecdote to more clearly illustrate the power in the process for me. Utilizing a tool from The Grove called “The Personal Compass,” a mid-point exercise calls on you to measure and plot out how you’re spending your time. The idea is to list off all of your weekly activities, estimating how much time you’re spending on each one. Then comes the hard part—reflecting on how satisfied you are with your time allocation, followed by a re-estimate of what an ideal state might look like.

To be frank, my current and ideal states were nowhere close to in line with each other on a number of fronts. For example, quality time spent with my wife was about a third of what I estimated it should be. Of course I hadn’t intentionally chosen to create that gap, but lesser priorities—those selected by me and those selected for me—had taken precedence.

Guess what my wife and I did the following Thursday night? We called a babysitter and went on a much-needed date. It happened again a week later. And the week after that. This may sound relatively benign, especially thinking about it within the larger context of establishing a personal vision. But that vision can only be achieved when one conceives of it and moves toward it with conviction—celebrating small but interdependent wins along the way. This is conscious living.  This is personal leadership.

Even though it is an intimately close encounter, I have not had to go at it alone. Leadership Academy directors Eric Johnson (Director of Graduate Career Services) and Ray Luther (Kelley MBA Executive Director) have facilitated the entire experience by sharing their own vision and the step-by-step approach of looking backwards and forwards in an attempt to actualize it.  They, like me, have previously fallen victim to unconscious living, which makes it all the more inspiring to see their resolve in reclaiming a personal vision.

While I’d love to say the last six weeks has provided a visionary blueprint to follow for the rest of my life, it’s not true. That vision will change over time—sometimes incrementally, sometimes fundamentally. What is true is that I’ve learned the power of creating the space necessary to pause and ask challenging questions of myself, then document, reflect on and pursue a vision with conviction. It’s a personal pit stop, if you will. This process will undoubtedly be among the most valuable tools I carry with me in the post-MBA journey ahead.


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