We Need a New Kind of Leadership to Overcome the Intense Challenges of Our Era

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By Lily Hamburger, MBA ‘16

We have come to business school to learn how generations before us have organized, managed, and driven organizations and people into financial and economic progress. What we may or may not have anticipated is that even in the short time since we became students at Ross the world has changed.

The rate of technologies and interactions between companies, products, and people is so rapid that few can keep up. It is a time of extraordinary change, and we will need a new kind of leadership to overcome the intense challenges of this era like economic inequality, climate instability, and energy uncertainty.

The finalists for the Distinguished Leadership Award this year represent the kind of leadership our MBA class - and more broadly our generation - value. Many of them have alternative career backgrounds or pursuits, and have sought experiences throughout their lives that have stretched them outside their comfort zones. This is key.

The finalists, voted on by the student body, were:

  • Erin Dingrando
  • Kristin Horvath
  • Whitney Martin

These women are the types of leaders our future needs.

Given our global economic, social, and environmental conditions, leaders need to be able to navigate uncharted waters and deeply ambiguous and complex problems. The commitment to action-based learning at Ross is critical here, so activities like the student-led funds, Detroit Impact projects, MAP projects all over the world, and courses like New Product Innovation and Global Projects have us on the right track.

While none of these endeavors provides a clear career journey the way that Consulting Club, Human Capital Club, or Marketing Club might, they are the foundation of learning about a new paradigm of business that we are responsible for shaping. The skills gained from being out “in the wild” and forging an untrodden path through a complex problem will serve all of us - wherever our careers take us.

That ability to navigate complexity and ambiguity is what the future needs, and these Ross students embody this spirit and help us see the types of people we should all aspire to become:

  1. Humble listeners - If you think you know everything, you will stifle your own learning and growth. Humility is the key to remaining up-to-date and relevant in an era of rapid-fire change. Leaders listen to those around them; they do not limit who they seek advice from, they rather understand others’ perspectives. Not only does listening build trust and critical buy-in for driving change, but it fills in gaps in the puzzle of reality that a leader needs to piece together a sound decision.
  2. Creative - Leaders think outside the box. They do not stop at obstacles, but think in new ways about how to get around them. They are able to see the big picture and connect the dots along the way to see the way forward. They play with ideas to get to new solutions.
  3. Brave - Leaders must be unafraid to challenge the way things have been done before. We need people willing to learn from the past, observe the present, and devise new solutions that reflect a new paradigm for the future.
  4. Empathetic and collaborative - As marketplaces and workplaces diversify, we need people who understand people. When work needs to get done quickly, the most effective teams will get it done; those who collaborate effectively will find a whole greater than the sum of its parts. True innovation comes from expertise that is shared and built upon.

While we need the tools Ross has given us to understand business, to analyze numbers, and to organize processes and people effectively, we have to stay hungry and wildly curious, too. This is the beginning, the foundation for us. We must keep asking questions and listening to the world around us - and then we’ll be able to lead our world to a better place.


Lily Hamburger is a graduating MBA student at the Ross School of Business. She is the 2016 winner of The Frank S. Moran Distinguished Leadership Award, which is voted on by the student body and aims to honor Michigan Ross students who have exemplified an admirable spirit of leadership throughout their time at Ross. She will be presented with this award during the MBA Commencement Celebration on April 27, 2016.

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Lily Hamburger
MBA '16
2016 Graduate Frank S. Moran Distinguished Leadership Award Recipient