The Original Why?

By Michael Eisenberg, Sloan 2020

A little over a year ago, we made the decision to move from San Francisco, CA, USA to London, UK and enroll in the LBS Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy programme. I was asked by friends, by my wife, family, co-workers, acquaintances, family friends, my wife again, the deli worker where I used to get lunch, essentially everyone I had any kind of relationship or interacted with, “Why did I go?”  Why did I decide to leave a growing industry, why uproot the family from the comforts of their community, why move to a foreign country, wasn’t I too old to go back to school, what about finances and loss of income, and on and on and on.  All valid points and all questions that I asked myself so many times.  Sometimes the ones closest to you are the hardest ones to understand your Why… .

However, the Why isn’t always just a single answer. Nor is the Why the same for everyone in the Sloan cohort. That is the reason it’s such a powerful programme. Imagine being part of a cohort where every single one of your classmates has a different reason to attend, all with the driving motivation to be better… a desire to overcome a personal challenge and all still have the tenacity to learn, to experience, to grow, to go beyond themselves. That was my why!

Some decisions are based on facts, some on intuition, and some on emotion. The decisions, however, may not be as important as understanding the motivations driving the decisions and the ability to problem-solve to reach the intended goals. Personal and professional strategic decisions require thoughtfulness, research, and analysis; they are often uncomfortable and messy.

Well, has the “Why” changed?

Just like in our personal or professional lives, the status quo changes whether we like it or not; I’m going out on a limb to say that this year pretty much destroyed that paradigm. The beginning of our one-year Sloan journey started in January 2020 and then the world as we know it, changed in March. After 20 years, I was excited to be a student again and experience new learnings, new relationships, new places to explore, new perspectives to understand, and new opportunities for growth – all part of my journey to stretch my boundaries. These unexpected circumstances, however, quietly devastated me and I began to question my Why.

Being locked in a house with two small children and seriously questioning how many times one of my naked children could be caught on my zoom calls, I quickly needed to remind myself of my priorities and I started to reflect on my actions, re-focusing on the global situation, and continued interacting with other experienced individuals throughout the school and the broader ecosystem. I believe that success requires one to be resilient with the ability to step up, analyse, adapt, and execute within an ever-changing environment. That doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I knew these challenges would create new learnings and that leaders emerge by moving forward. I always thought flexibility was tied to yoga…but in this case, flexibility of thought is the mechanism to configure for the future – my future.

I feel as though I have uncovered my unique contribution to the programme: the undeniable and unwavering approach of giving back as a basis for life-long relationships and professional and personal development. I strive to be a voice of reason and responsibility. Most of us are more competitive than collaborative; we understand cooperation but not necessarily how that differs from collaboration. When we grow together as a group and support one another, the mindset changes and so does our learning. Striving for common outcomes gives everyone an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. It is this collective problem-solving scenario that creates sustainable change.

I have undoubtedly learned from this experience. Despite the year not being exactly what I expected or envisioned, not only has my Why not changed at all, it has been reinforced.

1 comment on “The Original Why?”

  1. Avatar Elerson Nogueira Reply

    Thanks for sharing Michael, now myself and our colleagues on the 2021 Class are certainly facing tough questions about our why and you reminded me to reflect about mine. Next stop London Business School… “Mind the gap”.

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