Kristal Dehnad juggled a lot during her time at WhartonSan Francisco. In addition to being promoted from director of charitable trusts to managing director of partner relations and programs at Stanford University, she also co-chaired Wharton’s Social Impact Conference and took a Global Modular Course on Conflict, Leadership and Change in Rwanda. We recently asked Kristal to share lessons from her EMBA journey. Here’s what she said:
First and foremost, the EMBA journey is a team sport. Several times when I was driving to class on Friday mornings, preparing for an intense two-day session, I felt like I was on a journey to Mt. Everest – a very long climb. During the first term, we were a team of individuals, as everyone was getting to know each other and seeking a new equilibrium. It’s a time when expectations and reality conflict.
This experience is very different from being an undergraduate because everyone is carrying packs of different weights (family, career and personal demands), and everyone’s training up to this point differs widely (40% of the class had advanced degrees). In the second term, there was a shift when it started to become a team sport. The goal becomes helping each other get to the top of the peak.
Second, try to have as many new experiences as you can while you are at Wharton. I came into the program with an achievement mindset. I left the program with an experience mindset. For me, it was about taking new paths and roles that were outside of my comfort zone like co-chairing the Social Impact Conference, going to Rwanda, and participating in Wharton’s Quantico Leadership Venture program. I tried experiences that Wharton offered that I knew I could not replicate outside of my two-year journey. Feel uncomfortable as much as you possibly can. That’s when growth happens.
Third, know that the greatest ROI from this program is the group of people sitting right next to you. Get to know them. Invest time and energy in one another. In the last part of the journey, we stood shoulder to shoulder at the peak of the mountain only to realize that life is full of many more mountains to be climbed. We were lucky to have forged lifelong relationships to help us conquer those new ambitions.
The fourth lesson is to be organized, don’t procrastinate, and set ground rules with your team. You need to have an agenda, a meeting leader, and a time limit for team meetings. Do what you say you are going to do. Your team counts on you. Step in when someone needs help. You can plan for the expected. It’s the unexpected that will test your team like jobs changes, family needs, etc. So figure out a system that works for you. For me, it was waking up early and getting homework done before starting my full day. A sub-lesson here is to accept that true balance is difficult to achieve. For me, it was about progress and not perfection.
Fifth, make sure to share your EMBA journey with family and friends because they are your life boat. I involved my family in my Wharton journey: My daughter attended a class with me, my husband joined me in various social events hosted by Wharton, I invited my CEO to Wharton to share his experiences leading an endowment with my classmates, and I relayed what I learned in the classroom to my team at work. Help your family and friends understand by taking them along for the ride. And along the way, make sure you let them know how much you appreciate them.
Finally, I learned that leadership needs to be taken rather than given. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to be the team leader. We each have something unique and valuable to give. Step up and lead. What are you going to give to your class?