It was the autumn session of the university. 35 young and sharp minds were assembled in their first class of the management program for business administration. The enthusiasm was visible and every student was radiating a sense of achievement and victory in life. And why not, they have tried very hard to crack the entrance examination, followed by rigorous rounds of interview, group discussions and role-plays. It was a dream university to get into and these few have done it. “We are set for life!”, they thought as they interacted with each other.
Prof. Phillip walked into the class to start the proceedings for the program. “Mmm..hmmm”, he said as he was hit by a thunderous reception and a resounding greeting from the class. “I would like to see you carry this spirit until the very last day of this program”, he said with a mild smile. “Settle down now please”.
“Today we will keep the session lighter. I will be journeying with you for the next 2 years and will be your guide in the learning program. To be precise, I will discuss with you the subjects of business ethics, managerial economics and applied statistics. I hold a Phd in managerial economics, statistics and accounting”, he told the class. There was rapt attention as if the students were exposed to divine music. “I take it that you are impressed with my company, very good. Let us get to know each other a little bit, shall we”, said the professor.
“It has been my dream to enroll with this institution for the MBA program Professor and get to sit in your class. This is a dream come true”, said Peter. “I have a plan for my life and MBA with a prestigious institution such as this is a step, I am happy to be here”, said Angela. As the students went through sharing their background and their expectations from the program, Professor Phillip gently smiled and tried to absorb as much as he can, when he heard, “I see an MBA as a step towards moving to an executive role”, said Tyron. “And why do you want to be an executive my friend?”, asked the Prof. “To be completely honest with you, I think it gives me power. It gives me authority. People will just listen to what I say. I would love to get things done and nothing better than being an executive. Of course I am smart and that’s why I am here”, Tyron spoke honestly. The professor paused for a moment and the class keenly watched his face.
Tyron was beginning to get uncomfortable with the silence when the professor said, “I like your honest opinion and the way you have expressed it. I really encourage all of you to be direct and speak out your mind. I can assist you only when I know where I should, and we can help each other out by being open. Now coming back to what Tyron said”, he paused again to adjust this spectacles that were beginning to dance down his hawk like nose.
“How many of you believe that doing an MBA is a road to an executive position?”. A few hands went up hesitatingly. “How many of you think that being an executive gives you the power to execute?”. Fewer hands this time. “And how many of you think that people will listen to your authority, to whatever you say?”. This time Tyron was alone with his hand half raised. “Well, I must reconsider professor-ship and look for a position of power myself, shouldn’t I?”, he chuckled and the class responded with an uncomfortable laughter. “I am glad that we are discussing this topic upfront and I will revisit this several, no, much more than that, times during the course of the program. For today, let us play a small game”.
“Tyron you are the executive ‘with a simple order’, and we will come to that later. I want the rest of the class to split into two groups. Each group please move to one corner of the room”, said the professor with his hand leaning on the large mahogany desk towards the front of the classroom. “I will speak with our executive here and will then come to each of the groups with a message ‘about him’ and then we will play the game”. Saying so he first went to Tyron. “You will tell each group, after I have spoken to them to execute an order, that of trying to move this table here. Please wait for my signal before you go to them and make the most respectful but assertive directive to each of the groups”. Tyron saw that the professor then went to the two groups one by one and spent few minutes telling them something. He noticed that a few members from each group gave him a few glances as they heard the professor.
“Ok Tyron, you are to give an order which your teams will execute one by one, first please go to the group to the right and tell them what they should do for you”, said Phillip. With professor following closely, Tyron walked up to the group on the right side of the room and said “It is very important for us as a company to move things forward. I would like to work with a team that has discipline and can execute the directives of their executives. With that, I would like you to trust me and move that table over there”. “Impressive!”, said Phillip and Tyron felt like an executive. The other group which was a few yards away on the other side of the room were watching keenly as to what was happening. The group that received the order reluctantly went to the table and gathered around looking at it. After a while, one of them tried to lean on it with a forward bend and motioned the others to do the same with a smirk. Others followed suit. “It definitely looks like they are trying to do what you told them to do”, whispered Phillip to Tyron. “But this is not fair! the group is not playing to the rules professor”, said Tyron with his confidence fading away. “Please wait for it and then repeat your orders to the second group”. After few minutes, the professor motioned to the first group to return to their seats.
Tyron then walked over to the second group and gave them exactly the same orders. The group rose instantly and went to the table. They observed the table for a while as a group as if to understand the difficulty of the task. In a few minutes collectively, they managed to push the huge table by a few inches making a screeching noise. “Bravo!”, said Phillip and Tyron looked at the other group with a sense of “see? that’s how its done” on his face.
The professor thanked the second group and asked them to settle down. “This was an extremely simple and elementary exercise of getting your teams to execute for you – to move a table. As executives you will have power, but that is realized only when it is allowed to be exercised by those who will work with you, nay, work for you. Tyron, I was being your reputation – ‘everything that you are perceived to stand out for’. To the first group I told this – ‘Tyron is an executive in power. If you do not follow his orders, he may fire you all and all of you need your job very much. However, conventionally his actions are not clear and he may tell you to do something which is probably important for the company, but the relevance is not understood by you. His past actions did not follow through with a clarification of how they have brought value for the company, to the employees and to the community. However, not following his orders is not an option’. And to the second group I told the following ‘Tyron has build this company for you. Everything he says and does has inherently in it an aspect of growth beyond himself. His actions in the past have always had a larger purpose behind them which significantly made a difference to his employees and the community. He may not fire you if you do not do what he says, but doing so will ensure that collectively you have moved one step further as a team.'”
“I am also glad that the second group did want to move further as a team and trusted their executive. You have a good team Tyron”, Phillip winked at him as Tyron smiled in acknowledgement.
“So you see, true power to execute is realized by the effectiveness of execution and it is only made possible by the trust and faith placed by the ecosystem. Through the course you will learn several techniques that will help you get to the right decisions – ‘on which tables to move and which ones to let be’. But connecting with the ones around and developing the reach to get things done, you have to build yourself. And if I might add, for that you do not have to wait to become an ‘executive'”, concluded Phillip with a warm smile.
The prelude to the above story on LinkedIn is here