Leadership Labs, SEED, and the Executive Challenge.

The. Executive. Challenge. One of the big mysteries of fall quarter.

It all starts with a class called Leadership Labs (aka LeadLabs…everything is abbreviated here), which runs for the whole quarter. For LeadLabs each section is divided up into small groups of 5 or 6 students. These small groups are known as squads. Each squad is assigned an Arbuckle Fellow (I’ll post about this later) who is an MBA2 taking an extended class that focuses on coaching / mentoring / developing other people / etc.

LeadLabs had three components- Wednesday morning meetings, the SEED project, and the Executive Challenge.

First, every squad meets for two hours on Wednesday mornings…yes, Wednesday. For those of you who are applying, you have heard Admission’s claim that there is no class on Wednesdays. False. I think that this coming winter quarter will be the first and last time I don’t have a Wednesday morning class. Anyway, every Wednesday morning your squad will meet with your Fellow. Two squad mates will have been pre-assigned to each “lead” a segment for about an hour. The topics of the segments are varied. A couple of the ones we had were to pick the case & question for the SEED challenge (explained below), to go through a simulation of an executive committee meeting that is picking someone to fire, to go through a simulation of a negotiation with a business unit in a different culture, to give feedback to other squad mates, and to practice giving motivational speeches. After class ends each of the two segment leaders will have a half hour debrief with the Fellow to talk about the experience, what they learned, what went well, what went poorly, etc.

The second component of LeadLabs is the SEED project. I’m 99% sure SEED stands for something, but I don’t think I ever learned what that was. This post seems like it’s going to be a lot longer than I expected, so the short version of SEED is that it’s sort of a written case competitio. There are 4 cases you can choose from, each one framed around a non-profit social venture. Within each case there are 4 or 5 specific questions you can choose from. Generally they are about writing a business plan or proposing a solution to some sort of business problem the organization is having. You have 6 weeks to meet as often as your squad wants, come up with your plan/solution and create a slide deck (limited to 8 slides) explaining your idea. The slide deck is submitted to a panel of judges and they pick winners based on qualities like feasibility, creativity, and all that good stuff.

When you learn about SEED at the start of the quarter it seems like a great idea and you’ll be motivated to do something amazing and win. Then you get incredibly busy and realize that you’d rather get it all done in four or five hours instead of spending days and days agonizing over it. For most squads, you will be distracted by everything else happening during fall quarter and suddenly realize that SEED is due in a few days and pull it together in one or two nights.

And then comes the third and final component of LeadLabs—the Executive Challenge! Most of us MBA1s knew very little about this before hand. It was kind of problematic. The night before my squad spent a while trying to figure out what time we had to show up and what the dress code was. We definitely had no idea what was about to happen. It turns out some of this was because the GSB asked MBA2s not to tell us what happens during the Executive Challenge. IMHO, they could have given us a bit more information so that we knew what was going on without giving away anything important. I’m going to give a quick outline of how the day went here, hopefully nothing that the GSB wouldn’t want future GSBers to know.

The short version is that it’s a full-day case competition. Each squad shows up, finds their Fellow, and heads into CERAS for an intro. Someone in charge of stuff (again, not sure who he was) explains the agenda and gives a brief overview of the three cases. Then each squad goes to its assigned preparation room somewhere on campus. The six members of the squad divide into three teams of two. Each team of two gets a copy of their case (20-30 pages of reading) and has about an hour and a half to read the case and figure out how they plan to solve it. The general theme of the cases is that the two MBA1s are members of a board or executive team and have to get the other members of board/team to agree to something. These “other members” are influential GSB alumni who have real life experience with these types of situations. After the 90 minutes of planning is up the whole squad heads into their first case room. The first two-person team (whichever team chose this case) goes through a 20ish-minute simulation trying to accomplish whatever their task is. The alumni are purposefully not helpful—they might act immature, refuse to listen to you, derail the conversation by arguing with each other, or withhold information that you need to make an informed decision. After the 20 minutes is up the judges and observers (each case has one of the GSB communications coaches as well as a couple alternate judges observing) give the two MBA1s feedback. The other 4 MBA1s and Fellow observe all of this silently. Then the squad goes out, you get a while to regroup, and you repeat it with the next pair. Quick lunch break. One more case with the final pair from your squad. Then an hour or so to debrief with your squad about how it went. Then networking, heavy hors d’oeuvres for dinner, and a big announcement of the winners.

I don’t think that Executive Challenge is the big end-of-quarter crowing achievement that the GSB frames it as, but at the same time it’s fun, a bit stressful, a great learning experience, and a nice cap-stone bonding experience for your squad. LeadLabs as a whole is pretty similar. It’s a good experience but not a game changer. It probably has a bigger impact on the MBA2s who are Arbuckle Fellows and learn a lot about coaching and teamwork from dealing with their squads.

This was super long. Hopefully it was useful! Next up will be a summary of some more fall quarter classes and an overview of the grading system (unless someone has a request for something more interesting).

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About backinthebay2015

Stanford GSB class of 2015
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3 Responses to Leadership Labs, SEED, and the Executive Challenge.

  1. Hi !
    Thanks for your insider view 🙂 I would love to hear about the GER. Did you choose yours yet ? How many great options are there to choose from ?

    • I love that question “how many great options are there” … tons. The list changes every year, but you can expect about three dozen trips to a variety of places. If you can think of a great trip that isn’t happening, then you can get together a group of 3 or 4 friends and plan and lead that trip when you’re MBA2s.

  2. Jon Richards says:

    Thanks for posting a great description of the Executive Challenge. I’ve participated as a judge each year since the beta round many years ago. I love it and will not relinquish the opportunity to participate until they drag my cold body from the KMC.

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