Park Perspectives: Working hard and being kind in the most competitive of arenas

By: Mel Anderson
Park Fellows celebrate case competition victory

by Darren Horne, MBA ‘23

MBA programs are fast. That’s it.

Staying true to yourself is difficult when uprooted and placed in one of the most socially, professionally, and intellectually competitive arenas, an MBA program. Everyone wants to succeed. This article unpacks an approach to succeeding while working hard and being kind.

Working hard: Beating the bubble

Consultants like structure, which is why every case has a framework or approach. Working hard can be broken down in a similar fashion. In any MBA program two things are always in question: intent and purpose. Below is an outline on how you can clarify those two to optimize your time and pursue success gracefully while bringing others along with you.

The Motivation

Motivation is the engine that pushes you forward and drives you. In the words of Simon Sinek, “Start with why” and identify those internal and external sources of positive and negative motivation. Motivation must be pure. Home in on internal positive sources of motivation; they provide a major key to unlocking your potential. For the author of this post, motivation is simple:

“Work hard and be kind, it’s a way of life. I just want to show my little brother what is possible, to live without restrictions on what one can and cannot accomplish.”

The Plan

A plan is the nervous system of any repeatable model. Planning allows you to default and retrace when you lose your way from your internal positive sources of motivation. For the team of first-year Park Leadership Fellows going into consulting, the plan was simple: Check in with one another at a designated time once a week to ensure that we kept pace while pushing through the recruiting process. Park Fellows acted as one another’s accountability partners, mini-therapists, and occasional sous chefs. The plan was set!

The Work

Forty to 60 hours of work per week can seem daunting to others but when you find your supporters, 60 to 80 hours of work becomes as easy as making buttered toast. Downward pressure or “headwinds” can come from four primary sources in an MBA program: social, academic, personal, and professional. Let one of these shut down your plan or motivation and the jig is up!

Imagine: Academically, your grades begin to slip ever so slowly, your peers begin with the gossip about the 25 percent you righteously scored on a midterm, and you’re faced with the mountain of challenges of finding a high-profile MBA job. Seems laughably grim.

Now imagine how much easier it is to balance those downward pressures when you solidify your motivation, plan, and find your support system. Blue skies, rainbows, and sunshine once you find the people who propel you forward during the work, no matter how messy it gets. MBA programs are like speed dating: You meet 300 people in two weeks and need to quickly filter out supporters and detractors. When you find supporters, the MBA program is simply a  remarkable experience. Supporters make downward pressures mute, be it social gossip, academic struggles, personal challenges, or a bad interview.

Being kind: expanding your reach

It’s difficult to identify those detractors but if you always default to kindness the small problems that become magnified by the bubble you live in burst back into small problems. You still love you family, your partner, your friends, your cat. Just because a peer or professor said something unsavory about you, that should not break your default: kindness. Kindness is the quality of being generous, considerate, and friendly, doing things for others without being prompted.  Being kind in an MBA program is tough, since everyone is competing for placements. However, by following the three steps below, you can change your perspective.

  1. Secure yourself: Make sure that you are secure and healthy as a baseline. Align the motivation, the plan, and the work. Repeat.
  2. Reach out to those you see: Be perceptive and a bit predictive. Your peers are struggling, too, and because of the stress, they might not be their best self in the moment. Don’t take it personally; assume innocent intent. Reach out when the time is right and bring them in.
  3. Follow through, don’t stop. Keep up with those who are and aren’t receptive. You never know who’s watching. Do for others.

The payoff: reputation, growth, enjoying the connections

Being a leader can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the greatest lessons that I learned in the Power and Politics course at Johnson was around authenticity. Regardless of the pressure you are facing, the undue acts towards you, or any unfairness, do you remain unwaveringly authentic? Your true personality, values, and spirit, unchanged? While authenticity is how you build across the entire political power spectrum, ensure that you take with you all the bests aspects of your journey along with you. That is authentic; that builds a positive reputation.

Lastly, reap the benefits of a repeatable model. Headwinds hit you, you lean on your people, you push each other forward while working hard. It’s unstoppable when you can designate time to others. The rewards, in this case, are successful and fulfilling careers. Sprinkle in bits of kindness and you have one powerful person amidst the competition. People will never forget how you helped push them forward.


No matter what you do, you’ll find great people who will help you along the way. Avoid doing things in a vacuum as best as possible. Remain authentic as best as possible and carry the best parts of your past with you. Work hard and be kind, because you never know if that person who you helped in accounting class can become the next CEO of Apple!

About Darren Horne, MBA ‘23

Darren Horne is a second-year MBA candidate in the Two-Year MBA program at Johnson. Before business school, he worked as a process improvement consultant for Jefferson Health in Philadelphia. Horne consulted on organizational transformation, supply chain optimization, and COVID-19 mitigation activities across multiple industries. He holds a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and will be heading to the Boston Consulting Group in 2023.