Leadership Through Uncertainty
Prepare. Persevere. Be Good. Andrew’s incredible life story boiled down to those three pillars. For forty minutes last week, Andrew entertained a capacity audience with personal stories of hardship and triumph. He stressed the importance of authenticity and the power of service. But most of all, he urged the audience to know who they are, recognizing that this awareness of purpose is at the core of leadership.
After college, Andrew confronted a number of ethical dilemmas, which led him to identify and record his personal values – a piece of paper he now carries in his wallet every day. Among those values are “Service,” “Integrity,” “Meaningful Relationships,” and “Boundary-less-ness.” Reflecting on his values led Andrew to question larger life goals and choices, which set him on his current path toward a Penn JD/MBA.
Andrew talked about discovering an injured climber in a storm at 19,000 feet on the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas—Mt. Aconcagua. He described a life threatening encounter, having heard screams for help from another climber on the mountain who was frostbitten, confused, and unable to stay on his feet more than a few steps at a time. To leave him increased the risk that this troubled climber would not make it down alive. To help the climber would introduce the possibility that he might fall and bring an entire team down with him. Only because Andrew and his partner climber had prepared in advance (through proper training) and that day (by bringing the proper gear with them) were they able to help. Since that experience, Andrew has committed to preparation, telling the audience he committed to “controlling that which he could control, because he could control it.”
The audience was surprised to see photos of Andrew as a teenager, standing 5’ 3’ tall and weighing 220 lbs. His classmates teased him, but instead of getting depressed, he started to jog. A whole half a block. Within a few months, he jogged a mile, and within a year and a half, he completed a 15-mile trail run. In college, he decided to see if he could hack it as a varsity athlete, and walked on to Yale Crew. Only four years later, when he saw a picture of himself in his hometown newspaper after winning the National Rowing Championship, did Andrew realize how far he had come. The key to success was perseverance.
“Being Good” referred to the way Andrew had seen his mother change peoples’ lives as an Episcopal priest, and it referred to the way he thinks the highest performing teams function. Andrew’s mother faced hardships out of her control growing up, yet she maintained a positive attitude and love for other people. She gave her time and energy to those in need until the day she died, and Andrew saw that dedication to improving the lives of others was the only path to true fulfillment.
According to Andrew, “Being Good” is important in any team setting to building a positive culture. Andrew learned this through his experiences rowing for one year on the Yale heavyweight crew and three years on the Yale lightweight crew, which had completely different cultures. The latter did nothing but celebrate each other’s contributions and strengths while continually setting higher goals for themselves, while the former at the time justified the way its members teased each other by saying “it’s not that bad.” As a result of this positive team culture, the lightweight team performed beyond expectations, winning a national championship in Andrew’s senior year.
When his remarks were done, Andrew fielded questions—about his time in the slums of East Africa, about the Black Belt he pursued in order to feel safe in dangerous environment such as that slum, about his goal to complete the last two mountains he needs to finish the “Seven Summits,” and about his plan to return to public service as soon as he can. For all the accomplishments and impressive stories, what people will remember is the brutal honesty and conviction behind his remarks. The halls of Huntsman were abuzz with excitement following the lecture as the audience contemplated what they heard and how they might apply the lessons Andrew delivered to their own leadership journey.
Perspectives on Leadership is an innovative attempt to explore the unique leadership experiences of the Wharton MBA student body. It is designed to challenge us to think about leadership from new perspectives, while celebrating the experiences of fellow students.