Park Perspectives: Three steps in my leadership journey

By: Ashley Clark, Two-Year MBA ’20
Six Park Fellows from the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

Park Fellows from the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

Park Perspectives are authored by Johnson’s Park Leadership Fellows.

I came to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management with some understanding of the leader I was and of the leader I wanted to become. One of the many lessons I learned at Johnson, however, is the depth and complexity of leadership and how one must adapt one’s leadership style in different situations.

This past semester has granted me many opportunities and means of practicing leadership, as well as the chance to reflect upon my leadership journey. As I like to joke with fellow members of the Consulting Club, like a true consultant I am only comfortable with lists of three. Thus, I am excited to share three steps in my leadership journey that I have experienced this year, as well as lessons that I have learned along the way.

Step one: Learning the importance of flexibility

Before coming to Johnson, I always described myself as a collaborative leader. In my prior leadership roles, I believed it important to ensure not only that I considered everyone’s perspectives in the final product or outcome but also that all members of the teams to which I belonged felt heard and valued. Collaboration was especially important in my career in IT project management. As I implemented software systems and organizational change that would impact every member of my company, I realized it was imperative for me to understand the needs and perspectives of all of my colleagues. Further, I considered it important to create a system that everyone at my company could use to effectively and efficiently complete their tasks.

I adopted a similar leadership approach at Johnson for many of my academic group projects, as well as for my extracurricular work. Many of the leadership explorations we completed as part of the Park Leadership Fellows Program also reflected my collaborative and accommodating style.

However, during my internship over the summer, as well as during the prior semester, there had been instances that required me to be more assertive as a leader and to adapt my leadership style accordingly. I found these cases to be challenging at first, but they helped me to recognize the importance of being flexible, as no one style can be completely appropriate for every leadership situation. This lesson is one that I will continue to carry forward into my career.

About 20 MBA students from the Consulting Club.
Members of the Consulting Club Board from the Class of 2020 celebrate passing the torch to the members of the Consulting Club Board from the Class of 2021.

Step two: Learning the value of feedback in mentorship

This semester allowed me to practice mentorship as one of the co-vice presidents of education of the Consulting Club and also as a Career Work Group (CWG) leader. As a co-vice president of education, I helped lead the weekly Consulting Club meetings to assist first-year students learning how to prepare for the consulting recruiting process. As a CWG leader, I worked with a smaller group of students to help prepare them for consulting interviews.

I was incredibly grateful for all of the support I received from second-year students when I was recruiting for consulting internships last year. As a result, I was especially excited about the opportunity to give back to the Johnson community by helping the current first years in this way. I liked answering their questions and sharing my experiences with them as they built their pitches, learned about casing, and prepared for their interviews. I also enjoyed building the weekly meeting curriculum and providing thoughtful feedback to help first years continue to prepare and improve.

In addition, my co-vice president of education and I were excited about implementing weekly feedback surveys this year. Through these surveys, first-year students could provide feedback to us so that we could improve the meeting content and tailor the curriculum to their needs. This semester definitely illustrated to me how valuable feedback can be to ongoing development. As we recently held elections for the Consulting Club Board, I am incredibly excited to see what changes the Class of 2021 will make to continue to build and enhance the consulting program at Johnson.

Step three: Learning the benefits of autonomy through coaching

I also had the pleasure of serving as a Johnson Leadership Fellow (JLF) this semester. As a JLF, I assisted a first-year core team as they worked through various assignments as a part of their core curriculum experience during their first semester at Johnson. In addition to working with my team, I also had the opportunity to take the JLF class, which provided lessons in leadership and coaching to help me navigate the JLF experience.

Although I had the opportunity to mentor others in the past, the JLF program was my first true coaching experience. The class sessions and practice in asking powerful questions, listening deeply and critically, and providing well-formatted, specific, and actionable feedback were all incredibly valuable. As someone who desires a high degree of control over processes and outcomes, I found the JLF experience and practice in coaching demonstrated the value of letting others find their own solutions, instead of simply providing them with the answers directly. As I learned, the journey and steps to the answer are often more powerful and impactful than the answer itself.

Indeed, my newly acquired coaching toolkit is one that I will utilize often in my future career and life more broadly. Further, I am certain that my future leadership endeavors will continue to illustrate the importance of feedback, as well as flexibility in my leadership style and development. These three steps have certainly been impactful in my leadership journey, and I look forward to the steps that still remain ahead.

Ashley Clark

Ashley Clark, Two-Year MBA ’20

Ashley Clark is a second-year MBA candidate at Johnson. Before business school, she worked in IT project management for the printing press manufacturer Koenig & Bauer US in Dallas. In this role, Clark led the implementation of the firm’s SAP software system and the development of its first business continuity plan. She spent the summer of 2019 interning as a summer consultant for the Boston Consulting Group in Philadelphia. Clark holds a BS with majors in international business and Spanish from Elizabethtown College.