WHAT 100 GRADUATE STUDENTS FROM FORDHAM SCHOOL OF BUSINESS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE:
“I am from China.”
“I am from China.”
100 students later, most all of them from China.
And all of them were proud to say this line, I am from China.
For the past 5 weeks, I had the privilege of working very closely with 100 graduate students at Fordham University’s School of Business. The Business School recently launched a leadership program, and they asked me to be one of the trainers.
I said yes, and I am glad I did.
There are a few certainties.
First — I gave it my absolute all. The work was intense and challenging. I gave my total presence and energy to every student.
Next — As in every other life experience so far, the more I give, the more I get.
Since I am always trying to think about how to use my life and work experiences to hopefully bring some insight into yours, I wanted to write up the five most important things I learned from these students and the program in general.
LESSON ONE: I AM A CONTROL FREAK:
Every student was required to fill out a “leadership inventory.” This was basically a bunch of questions asking the students to rank themselves from a 1–10 around a variety of leadership topic. 1 was the lowest, 10 the highest.
I noticed that almost every student ranked themselves low in “I motivate others with a big vision of the future.” I dug deeper, and here is the overwhelming consensus from these students.
They don’t think their ideas are better than their peers. And they certainly don’t think that they should be micro-managing people. “I want them to be self-motivated and excited about the work. It’s too hard for me to always have to motivate others to do their jobs.”
I spend an insane amount of time trying to motivate my teams, make sure they are always good, and that I am inspiring them to take big action.
Maybe I should stop.
The control. The pushing. The micro-managing.
Maybe I should let them show me.
LESSON TWO: SHOWING INTEREST IN OTHERS IS THE BEST ICE BREAKER:
I started every meeting with each student by asking, “what part of China are you from?” They would tell me the name, and then ask me if I’ve heard of it? I never heard of any of these places. I’ve never been to China.
At that point, I pulled out my phone, and googled their city. We spent the next 2 minutes looking at pictures. I learned so much. I want to go to Harbin for an ice festival and Gansu to walk in the rainbow mountains. Who knew these things existed?
But something else happened when we looked through the pictures together. The students smiled and their body language changed. They lit up. I am sure they miss their home. I am sure they are used to Americans asking them where they are from and then not even listening to the answers.
This really started the meeting right.
I learned, they taught.
Think about that for a second.
LESSON THREE: WHAT’S UP? HOW’S IT GOING? ….HUH?
I let it be known in the beginning of the sessions that our time together was for the benefit of the student, and they could ask me anything that would help their professional development.
Yes, I have a very important question, she told me.
““How do I answer the question, “what’s up?” I googled it, and I think the correct answer is “not much,” but I am not sure.””
She then went on to ask me about other intro throwaway questions like, “How’s it going?”
At first I laughed. But then I thought about the deeper meaning here.
Some people take it seriously when you ask them how they are, or what’s up, or how it’s going.
I want to stop asking questions unless I am willing to invest as much into processing and listening to the answer, as they did processing and preparing their answer to it.
Because for some people, getting asked something like “What’s Up?” fills them with a desire to give a meaningful answer. Maybe she felt special that someone cared. Maybe that was the only conversation she had outside of the library that day.
And if we are going to make someone feel special that we care, we should actually care.
LESSON FOUR: LOVING AND PLEASING YOUR PARENTS ARE TOTALLY SEPARATE THINGS THAT NEED TO BE SEPARATED:
I’ve always heard about the immense parental pressures in Chinese culture, but never experienced it first hand, until now.
Students cried — like real tears.
To me — a complete stranger.
Typical stories — dad wants me to be a doctor even though I hate science. Mom wants me to get married and have a kid even though my boyfriend is crappy to me.
Doing things you do not want to do to please your parents is a bad idea.
I love my parents with my whole being. I adore them. I am beyond grateful for them. I don’t listen to what they think I should do. My father wanted me to be a lawyer. I would’ve been miserable as a lawyer. My mom wants me to not work so much and “slow down.” I love speed and creating new things all the time.
This took me a really long time and a tremendous amount of guilt. But about 4 years ago, I realized a few things.
First, doing things I knew were not right for me to please my parents led me to resent them (without them even knowing it). I don’t want to resent my parents. I want to have a long healthy relationship with them. Doing things for ME, not them, was the single most important step I have taken so far to make sure we remain as close as we are — for the long term. Even if I felt guilty about it at first (and I did).
Next, your parents actually start to respect you more when you own your truth. Even when it’s different than what they want for you. This was a big breakthrough for me too. It’s the opposite of what I expected. This may take a few rounds of back and forth (and multiple), but eventually, it gets easier.
Bottom line — doing what you want, while it may be difficult and tense in the short term, is the best way to build a long term relationship that lasts with your parents.
LESSON FIVE: NO ONE HAS ANY CLUE HOW TO NETWORK OR BUILD A BRAND AS A STUDENT.
And when I say no clue, I mean NO clue.
I should write another article on this at some point, but here is the quick breakdown that I saw really help the students think through networking and branding.
First, stop thinking about what YOU want, and start focusing on the person you want to pay attention to you. If they have an event coming up, volunteer. If they are on TV, write an article summarizing the most important points they mentioned, and then send it to them.
No one wants to have a coffee with you! They are busy and don’t know you. The single best way to get the coffee date is to earn it. Provide value 1,2,3, 8 times for that person. Get on their radar. Send them the articles. Ask what else you can do. Be proactive. Make their life better.
Eventually, if you are good enough, and persistent, you will get the coffee, and then the job. But sending a cold email with a resume and a few times that “work for you” for a call will never work.
Same goes for you building a brand. You want to be in media? Show me a video you’ve produced or article you’ve written. Want to work at a hedge fund? Show me your analysis of the trending stocks of 2019 and why they’re doing well.
I have hired dozens of people over the years. I have never looked at a resume, and never will.
SHOW me what you’ve done. Which means, you have to do something.
So get to work.
LESSON SIX: IT STARTS AT THE TOP
Liz was the woman running this Leadership program, and she was phenomenal. She was working on about 40 different things at all times, yet somehow, she made all of us trainers feel important and appreciated. The other trainers were committed, kind, and accomplished. These things don’t happen by accident. Liz and her team put together a very special program, and did it with grace and care.
It was not uncommon that all of us would meet in Liz’s office at the end of our days to talk about what worked and what we could do better. After sometimes seven hours of instruction, there we were, coming together, as a team.
I know I said I I was going to write five lessons, but I ended up with six.
Since we focused so much on philosophies of leadership, I’ll give mine a shot.
When you have a good leader, you give what you think you can.
When you have a great leader, you end up giving a little more.
To the 100 students from all over China, to the woman from the Rocky Mountains on 62nd and Columbus.
Thanks for being my leaders.
Thanks for being good at showing me how to give what I think I can.
And then being great at inspiring me to give a little more.
Whether it’s in Shanghai or Room 106 at Fordham, keep leading.
I’ll follow you.