Park Perspective: A broader definition of leadership

by Ami Parekh, MBA '25

By: Staff
four students in business attire

First-Year MBA Core team Adrian Leon, Ami Parekh, Chloe Matthea Ocampo, and Dave Bird, MBA'25s, before their first presentation in the Two-Year MBA program

What is a leader?

Reflecting on my time so far at Johnson, I can not help but reflect on the changes I see in myself and the way I think about leadership. Most students entering into the MBA program here at Johnson bring with them some level of job experience. We understand the ins and out of corporate jobs, how to work in teams, and what type of managers we liked to work with. We may even know what type of boss we hope to be someday. However, because most of us started school in relatively junior positions, we do not consider ourselves leaders in our profession.

Just a few months ago, when I thought about the characteristics of those whom I considered leaders, the attributes that came to mind were “experts” and “powerful.” I thought of the client stakeholders who I had worked with in the past who brought 20-30 years of industry experience and technical knowledge to their roles. I thought of the teachers and professors throughout the years who shaped and molded my way of thinking. These people not only had an impact on me, but spearheaded change for a mass audience in their respective fields. How could I compare myself to my role models?

Week one of the program, the MBA1 cohort partakes in two leadership focused classes during pre-term – “Leading Teams” and “Core Team Practicum”. In these classes, first-year students learn about effective communication, goal setting, managing performance and emotions, conflict resolution, and giving and receiving feedback. Looking at the content of these courses, I thought to myself “Hmmm.. I have done these things before… have I been a leader this whole time?”

How did this mind shift happen so quickly?

To say that the start of business school is like drinking from a fire hydrant would be an understatement. From core classes to team building activities to social events, there is always something exciting happening. There are countless opportunities to get involved in clubs, conferences, extra classes, and the broader Cornell community from the very first day. There are also some activities, like the class-wide case competition, that each student is expected to take part in. When meeting with my core team for our first case (which had to be completed and recorded via zoom within the 4 hours allotted time), I put into practice the principles my classmates and I had gone over in class just a few days prior.

Early on a cloudy August Friday morning, the first case study that MBA 1s had to evaluate and provide a solution to was released. After taking a few moments to read what we were provided, I broke the silence by asking my core team their thoughts on the case. My team, consisting of myself and 4 other first-year students, all had different ideas on how to proceed with the problem we were given. However, because none of us had any insight or experience related to the subject matter, we felt hesitant to commit to an idea and move forward. Because of the time constraints and feeling lost, emotions were high. At one hour into the case, little to no progress was made.

As I looked at the clock hands quickly racing forward, I thought back to the effective leadership skills we were taught in class less than 24 hours prior. Opening the slides from the previous day, I thought about how my team could apply each of the principles listed to get us through this case.

  • Effective communication: Sitting quietly staring at our respective screens will get us nowhere. As we independently and collectively work through the problem, it was essential that we communicate with one another about our progress and ideas so our presentation will be cohesive and have one voice.
  • Goal setting: With less than 3 hours left on the clock, each moment was precious. 10 minutes for brainstorming, 30 minutes for independent research, 15 minutes for slide making… time was of the essence and we needed to strategize how we would divide and conquer this ask.
  • Managing performance and emotions: Providing support to a lost team member and grounding the team when feelings go awry helped us to stay united and on target.
  • Conflict resolution: Coming from diverse backgrounds, the way each of us approach various scenarios differ. Working through our differences in a respectful way without taking any comments too personally helped to boost the overall morale and progress of the team.
  • Giving and receiving feedback: This is important for during and after the case. Giving actionable feedback throughout and discussing the outcome together strengthened our relationship as a team.

Working on this case for half a day gave me a new perspective on leadership. It is not just about what you know; its more about what you do. Going forward in the MBA, there will be times when my classmates and I are feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, or unsure of an assignment’s subject area but prioritizing the qualitative attributes of leadership will set the team up for success.

The opportunities are limitless…but you need to place your own limits

As part of the core curriculum, MBA students have 10-12 group assignments across various classes. It is important to consider the strengths and potential areas of development for each team member to try to be tactical when deciding who should lead each assignment. Coming from a very structured professional background, I am very comfortable with status trackers and project plans. However, my team members coming from marketing, family-owned businesses, and the military have their own preferences for how to stay organized which might not involve color-coded excel files. To be a successful leader, it is important to have this awareness and accept the differences you may encounter. All members of a successful team in some way will be leaders.

Leadership comes in many forms. It can be facilitating a connection for a friend. It can be bringing a positive attitude to a team meeting. It can be sending a reminder in a group chat about an assignment coming due. It can be sharing your honest opinion with your team about your feelings towards how they handled a situation. It can simply be taking a step back so others can take a step forward for their development. The question is not whether we are leaders – the question is how will we choose to lead.


About Ami Parekh, MBA ’25

Headshot of Ami Parekh

Ami Parekh is a first-year MBA candidate in the Two-Year MBA program at Cornell SC Johnson School of Management. Prior to business school, Ami was a Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young LLP in the Technology Risk Consulting practice in NYC. Ami worked with financial services clients on a variety of projects including business process optimization and IT Audit services. Ami is originally from Philadelphia and received her Masters of Science in IT Audit & Cybersecurity and Bachelors of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from Temple University.