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An MIT Sloan Fellow on Purpose, Possibilities, Passion, and Letting Go

Fridays from the Frontline

The MIT Sloan Fellows cohort is a “microcosm of the global leadership community” developed by GM CEO Alfred P. Sloan himself between 1937 and 1956 to incubate the ideal manager among “experienced leaders and mid-career professionals.”

The 12-month program gives Sloan Fellows an “improve-the-world” toolkit packed with what it describes as “critical assets for your future: a personal network that spans industries and oceans, enhanced skills and capabilities, and the confidence to lead and make a difference on a global scale.”

Prominent alumni include former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, three U.S. Postmaster Generals, and the current and former CEOs of BellSouth, Aetna, Boeing, Eastman Kodak, Siemens, and Spring Nextel.

In today’s Friday from the Frontline column, current Sloan Fellow and innovation consultant Katie Luby reflects on the challenges of maintaining a healthy balance when it comes to personal goals versus professional expectations.

The following piece has been republished in its entirety from its original source, “MIT Sloan Newsroom.”

Purpose, Possibility, Passion, and Letting Go

by Katie Luby, MIT Sloan Fellow ’18

*I am a possiblist, I was never a perfectionist, I’m trying to be more of one; I think I play the important role of looking at what can be, and drawing a map of how to get there.

Is it possible to act passionately while still being adept at managing expectations in the twisting tides of business?  This felt like the challenge this year, how to be passionate while simultaneously letting go.

First can you ask yourself what you are passionate about, have self-awareness to understand what you care about, but also learn not to care about things that don’t matter. When I think about leading a purposeful life it means being able to shift and pivot when the purpose takes a new form, when the need changes direction, when the customer segment isn’t the one you thought, when the partners have all changed, when technology gets upended.

When the song changes tempo, do you need to leave the dance floor? We can hope not.

When I think about cross functional teams, and what innovation requires, this is so important.  Cross functional isn’t just about difference and diversity, –which are key–, but it is also about letting people lead at different times. Exposing people to new ways of working to see other people’s strengths, things they might not have had exposure to in their core role, but also seeking the moments where people can guide with their core strengths and integrate new thinking across the team. This is a curated effort, it’s not just putting a bunch of people in a room, it is not an episode of survivor.

It is an orchestra, it is music, and like music it takes practice and requires performance.

To lead a purposeful life, includes the outcomes you strive for but also what you stand for, and a long time ago I realized that I had to love what I do because I wouldn’t always be able to control all the circumstances that determined the outcome. Purpose has also meant a lot in terms of parenting. When my daughter asks why I have to go to work, I never wanted to defer to having nice things or putting a roof over our heads, because that felt insincere. I have always loved being able to tell her that I am work on challenging problems and help people see things in new ways, helping them create new futures.  She could see when I returned from a client workshop, from immersive research, or the readout of a strategy that I was exhilarated and I could say that I was creating something with clarity and that I could perhaps make a difference.

I have loved involving my daughter in volunteer time too. With my friend Elsa, also a single mom, we brought our kids to Ronald McDonald house to cook. It’s a great environment, a giant kitchen that is commercial in scale but open to the dining room like a home. We were there together with families, the kids that were being treated and their siblings and parents. From experiences like this, and making backpacks for back to school for children in shelters with the Be Alright Foundation, I want my daughter to understand that we are all the same. We are one step away from being in those situations ourselves and we shouldn’t be afraid to be with people that are different from us or and we should not be shy to face adversity and to help out. This teaches her empathy.

And this brings me to resilience, this sometimes feels like toughness, the ability to withstand but I also think it means suppleness, being able to bend and change without losing too much of yourself.  For me, I think resilience has been at the core of my path, I am not who I was when I set out on this path, I am who I intended to be however.

In terms of music, resilience is the ability to continue to work on a difficult piece even when your hands are tired, to continue to practice even when you are uninspired.

My path has been circuitous and it has been full of opportunity and full of meaning. I don’t think a lot about the roads not chosen because I have seen interesting challenges on all of the roads which I have traveled.  I continue to see patterns from my disparate experiences, my path has informed everything that I do. Creating patterns out of a variety of information is key to my job and my point of view. I am humbled by the people I am spending this year with as a Sloan Fellow. Humbled by each path, each purpose, every resilience and the ability to embrace change, with passion, empathy and an incredible ability to let go.

When I first met my fiancé, we initially became friends and then didn’t see each other for a few years. When we reconnected, he said “you were not this person when I met you, you have changed.”  In between, I had been in pursuit of meaningful experiences and new ways to think about my career and my purpose, and it had changed me. Falling in love has also changed me. Being a Fellow at MIT has been an incredible place to change and grow. I think change is key to how I want to live my life. I hope that continues to be the case; pursuit of purpose, resilience in the face of ambiguity and thinking about what is possible* both for my personal life and my clients and peers, I want these to continue to be core to my journey and my life’s work.


Posted in: Beyond Business School, Fridays from the Frontline, MBA Feature

Schools: MIT Sloan

About the Author

Jon Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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