Tag: leadership



Anne He, BSBA ’22, wrote this for the Olin Blog. She is studying finance and sociology.

In business, we face rejection all the time. We may be rejected from a job, a customer may reject our product, the list goes on. Entrepreneurs famously tell stories about the hundreds of rejections that lead up to a single success. It’s clear that dealing with rejection and coming out on top is not only important but necessary to excel in business.

Even knowing this, I am still afraid of rejection. When someone tells me, “No,” my first instinct is to immediately nod, say, “No worries, I understand,” and try to forget about it as soon as possible.

During my freshman year, after making it all the way to the last round of interviews for my dream summer internship, I was rejected. I did not get the job. I quickly became frustrated with my lack of assertion, and my inability to turn rejection into something positive.

Inspiration from a Ted Talk

That’s when I stumbled across what has become one of my favorite Ted Talks, Jia Jiang’s “What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection.” The idea was simple: overcome the fear of rejection by completing a list of tasks that would be certain to face rejection. Sleep at Mattress Firm, take pictures with strangers, borrow $100 from a stranger, etc. When told “no,” the goal was to question the rejection and find ways to circumvent it. 

I embarked on this challenge last summer by creating my own list of tasks based on my experiences. Thus began a summer of asking the barista if I could come around the counter and make my own coffee, trying on a stranger’s stylish jacket and asking time after time if I could have a phone call with random professionals.

Practicing rejection

The first time, I had to have a friend physically push me toward the confused barista. Over time, my thought process started to shift toward, “What can I lose?” The more tasks I accomplished, the less hesitant I became to complete the next one.

It’s a silly challenge and I had lots of laughs while doing it, but it’s made a monumental impact on the way I respond to rejection. If I meet an Uber driver who has had an interesting career path, my first instinct is to ask for advice and a future phone call. If a recruiter says “no” to my application, my response is no longer “I understand,” but rather “How can I improve?” 

Fear of rejection has prevented me from taking opportunities that could be the start of new passions and journeys. When I returned to WashU in the fall, I was ready to apply myself to new roles like joining Bear Studios, LLC or becoming executive vice president of Student Union.

These experiences seemed like a far-reaching dream only a year ago and are now a reality. Rejection should never be feared but used as an opportunity for exploration and growth. 




The Center for Experiential Learning fellows program works to shape great business students into great business leaders. The CEL fellows, an impressive group of MBAs, just met for their second Captain’s Table, where they discussed the challenges and setbacks that come with leading a team.

The group split up to discuss a case that depicts a team leader dealing with a team member who is smart, but unmotivated and disrespectful. Looking to open up the fictional teammate’s untapped potential, the fellows debriefed with Kurt Dirks, vice chancellor of international affairs and Bank of America Professor of Leadership, and drew out the following lessons that focus on values-based leadership.

Communicate expectations early

CEL Director Daniel Bentle quoted George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

It’s important to set expectations and set a tone from the beginning. The team leader in the case did set expectations from the start, but she made the grave mistake of not including the team. If you build expectations with your team instead of alone, the expectations will feel more like an agreed-upon team contract than a set of rules to break.

In addition to setting expectations, the team leader should facilitate an understanding of each teammate’s motivation in the project. For example, the disrespectful team member was mainly focused on job searching. If the team lead had capitalized on this information early on, she could have worked to use this information to motivate him. Explaining how the project could be a great conversation topic in interviews or good content for his resume would be a great way to get this team member on board.

Build trust with your team

Building trust with each individual teammate is an essential step toward team success. Conn Davis, MBA ’17, said, “The key to business is personal relationships.”

Following Davis’s advice, the fellows agreed it was important to set up one-on-one meetings with each teammate to get to know them. Showing interest in your team on a personal level helps to build trust and works to reinforce the expectations you’ve previously set.

Listen and adapt

Even if you follow the above lessons, road bumps are bound to happen. For example, the teammate focused on recruiting may come in late to every meeting. Using lines of communication, you might find out that it’s because he has a meeting right before that he’s running from.

Listening to his reasoning and adapting to shift the meeting 15 minutes later will increase team efficiency. As a successful team leader, you have to be ready to adapt to produce the greatest results.




Tanya Yatzeck and, at right, David Moons.

My first impression walking into the event “60 ideas in 60 minutes,” presented by alumni of Olin’s Executive MBA program on January 9, was that the six panelists mingling among the attendees were EMBA graduates.

That information was on the event invitation, but it didn’t hit home until I overheard them reminiscing about their classes and the fun that they’d had getting together in the years since graduation—just like me and my former classmates. The panelists were us.

Sixty ideas in one hour sounds daunting, but the simplicity of the format made it possible to absorb every single one of them. Each of the six panelists had 10 minutes to present their 10 ideas. Each had a theme, which kept the content fresh from speaker to speaker.

Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, used his musical training as a theme, while Jennifer Labit, founder and CEO of Cotton Babies, emphasized her experience in entrepreneurship. Eric Benting, owner and operator of Chik-fil-A, shared his  insights about working with very young employees.

Attendees at the EMBA-sponsored “60 ideas in 60 minutes” event.

Don Halpin spoke of pivoting from a military career to medical innovation, and Ken Yamaguchi about straddling both corporate and university surgical responsibilities. Jan Alonzo, an attorney, provided a practical tool box of tips, including counting good days, blessings, helping others, and the legal and business necessities of becoming informed about the problem of sexual harassment.

While I was there, I was surprised and pleased to run into my classmate from EMBA 43, David Moons, president at his family’s business, Anji Mountain. I asked him why he attends Olin events.

“When you work in a small business, it’s very easy to get focused on just what you’re doing and ignore some of the external factors that are influencing your business,” he said. “WashU events provide me with the opportunity to stay in touch with what other companies are doing and, more importantly, how some global macro factors can be affecting my business and my people.”

I asked David to distill the 60 ideas into his top three:

1. Pull multiple levers. Find your idea and make sure all of your resources support it.

David: “We have a major initiative this year with some patented innovation. I’m cherry-picking different things that we’ll likely do to support that launch, but we’re now thinking more of, “Let’s just pull all the levers.” We don’t really know what’s going to work, and we might as well go full stop as opposed to limit our financial exposure, because we want to make sure this thing is a success.”

2. If you think you know what you’re doing, you’re likely in decline.

David: “That is something that will likely keep me up and still does keep me up on a nightly basis. I think that level of focus—on continuous improvement and not resting on your laurels—is about trying to drive your company and your vision and what you’re doing to improve. It’s something that’s critical. We can’t be successful if we don’t do that.”

3. Use mission to inspire people.

David: “When I think about mission inspiring people, it’s not just my people that I work with at Anji Mountain. It’s more about using our mission as a company to inspire our customers to get further engaged with our business. We compete in a hyper-competitive market. There are a lot of major players that are established. We need to continually find ways to differentiate, and using and leveraging our mission to better position ourselves with our customers is something we’re going to continue to focus on.”

David added, “I’m going to take probably the top 30 and bring it back to my company and my people, and hopefully they can get something out of it and it starts a bigger dialogue.”

I spied another EMBA classmate, Ken Franklin, running out of the event before it was over. I talked to him by phone later in the day.

“I’ve always felt that I have a moral compass guiding tough decisions, but I didn’t realize that it’s a skill,” he said. “At the end of the day, you want to do the right thing, be honest, have integrity, and build character. That’s what leaders do. My big takeaway—big ideas come from the heart.”

Read more about the event and find a list of all 60 ideas.




A high-performing team is the holy grail of leadership. But how do you build a strong team in practice? The beauty of Olin’s Executive MBA program is the abundance of opportunities to learn, apply, and practice team-building skills.

Executive MBA alumni Eric Willis and Ali Ahmadi, EMBA Academic Director Lee Konczak, and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Andrew Knight summarize some of the more salient lessons about team-building from the Executive MBA program and their professional lives:

A Shared Purpose

As part of the Leadership Residency, Lee Konczak, academic director of the Executive MBA Program and senior lecturer on organizational behavior and leadership development, administers a team development survey to measure how well the student teams function.

The assessment is Olin’s way “of defining for EMBA teams what a good team looks like,” Konczak said. “Teams do better when they have shared goals, plan ahead, and communicate. In some cases, it’s obvious when teams aren’t on the same page using this assessment.”

According to Konczak, commitment to a shared purpose and a willingness to plan are the two most important team-building takeaways for executives in the program.

Diversity of Perspectives and Experience

Eric Willis, EMBA 43, was a senior brand manager when he started the EMBA Program. He was promoted to a brand director during the program and is now director of marketing at Nestlé Purina Petcare. For him, the team-building aspect of the Executive MBA Program was an opportunity to practice skills he’d learned at Nestlé with a completely different and diverse group of professionals.

“One of the things I loved most about the EMBA program was that it was such a diverse group of people with different points of view and different backgrounds, all coming together in one place,” Willis said. “On your team, you’ve got to figure out how to leverage everyone’s strengths to achieve a common goal.”

At Nestlé Purina, Willis regularly brings groups of disparate team members together, including finance and product development participants, to agree on mission and vision. Some of the challenges include developing trust, addressing different sets of values, and communication.

“To me, building a strong team means getting diversity of thought. It means respecting people’s different points of view,” he said. “When I think of building a strong team, I think of empowering people to make decisions, and I think of leveraging what everybody brings to the table and trying to find a way to use everybody’s different perspectives to reach a common goal.”

An Environment of Trust and Respect

Entrepreneurship is an area in which building strong teams—and building them early—is critical. As an EMBA student, Ali Ahmadi, EMBA 44, leapt fully into entrepenreurship, co-founding drone 3D software startup “Strayos” (formerly AirZaar), with a fellow student. He knows firsthand how important it is that teams work well when the stakes are high and the rewards are not guaranteed.

“Early stage founders often don’t realize that the idea or product is not the only factor motivating the talent; it’s also the willingness to follow their leader into an environment where the odds are stacked against them in succeeding,” he says. “When you build a team that trusts and respects you as a leader, they will go through a wall of fire to reach the common goal but if the trust and respect are neglected, then very little can be done to salvage it,” he says.

Be Open to Feedback

Andrew Knight, associate professor of organizational behavior at Olin, finds that one of the biggest roadblocks for entrepreneurs is cultivating and developing a sense of shared ownership—“not in an equity sense,” Knight said, “but in terms of the feeling of ownership that the team members have over the venture. There is kind of an asymmetry in people’s investment in the project at the outset.”

Knight suggests leaders invite input from those joining the team, while at the same time creating boundaries: “Encourage new team members to make contributions and suggest changes to the venture, but pair that with clearly communicating where the entrepreneur is less willing to make changes.”

This clarity—inviting input within a mutually understood structure—“applies in almost any creative team where there is a need to get people feeling ownership—especially implementation and innovation,” Knight said.

The importance of this delicate balance is supported by recent research by Knight and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Markus Baer, who identified three behaviors of successful lead entrepeneurs in the earliest stages of a venture.




It’s hard to keep the sighing, heavy-eyed students of a night class engaged. But on this Tuesday evening, I sat in a buzzing room—with classmates swapping stories of stuffing and stitches from their first Build-A-Bear experience. Taking the podium to kick off our Women in Leadership class that night was Maxine Clark, philanthropist, serial entrepreneur, and the founder and former “Chief Executive Bear” of the Build-A-Bear Workshop retail company.

Over the next two hours, Maxine took our class through her career journey, explaining some of the personal and professional decisions that she made along the way. From leaving Payless to launch her own company, to leading projects supporting education and nonprofits in St. Louis, Maxine embraces change while staying true to her core values. I left class that night with a few favorite nuggets of wisdom to carry with me:

Be open to the teachers around you.

Maxine has a very apparent appreciation for the teachers in her life, and she recognizes that they come in all forms—whether a schoolteacher, supervisor, or child (Build-a-Bear’s core customer). In being open to learning from others, Maxine has found the strength to improve from mistakes, the drive to rise to challenges and surpass expectations, and even the inspiration to build new businesses.

Passions change. Keep up.

At the heart of Maxine’s story is an unshakeable faith and courage in following her passions. With several career pivots—becoming an entrepreneur and then entering the nonprofit space—she has maintained the self-awareness to recognize that her passions are malleable, yet always worth chasing. By embracing her passions at different stages of her career, Maxine continues to feel fulfilled in her work.

Live and lead with authenticity.

You can’t help but love Maxine’s unapologetic attitude. Her words are charged with a certain fearlessness and wrapped in sincerity. Maxine’s ventures speak to her values, and she makes no excuses for conducting business in a way that is authentic to who she is and the things which are personally important to her. As her talk came to a close, she signed off: “That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.”

Guest Blogger: Neelam Vyas, MBA ’18 & GSBA President