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On May 18th, 2010 my BUSN 72 students met an executive leadership panel. The panel consisted of  Tom Adamski (CEO & President at LEVEL Studios), Margaret Schmidt (VP User Experience at TiVo), and Chris Benioff (Assistant VP at Comerica Bank). One often expects to hear leaders talk about the passion they have for their work. After all, they work harder than the average employee and frequently have to make personal sacrifices to do what is best for the company.

But what is the essence of a leader? Would s/he lead regardless of what career path s/he chose?

What surprised some students was to learn that rarely does a leader stick with his or her chosen profession after college. By trade, none of the leaders that visited my class are in the same field as when s/he graduated. In fact, taking twists and turns through their careers seems to be the norm.

So what sets them apart? Leadership is more about mindset and a framework for approaching problems than it is about always knowing the right answer.

Tom mentioned that he loves design work, and his background is in design; however, he isn’t doing design work as CEO. Interestingly, he also mentioned that he finds ways to translate his love of design into creative approaches for how he runs his successful business. Margaret tried many different jobs before becoming the VP of User Expeirece at TiVo and she she never stuck with something that wasn’t professionally satisfying. As her career progressed, she learned that  user experience design work was what she really loved. It was at this point that her career progressed into what it is today. Chris knew he wasn’t satisfied with a career in engineering after college, even though he knew he was good at it. Chris knew he needed to make a change into banking, so he went back to school to obtain the skills necessary for a career change. By being introspective about what he truly enjoyed doing and not fearing change, Chris has found the right career.

What is the common formula among these executives?

They have an uncompromising attitude when it comes to pursuing the right career. The bottom line is that they are passionate about it. When they found the work they loved, they threw themselves into it. Leadership has a lot to do with working in a field you’re passionate about and being decisive, which is exactly what BUSN 72 proposes to teach.

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