“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” – Whitney Houston

Last weekend, I participated as a judge at the 20th Annual Kogod Case Competition at my alma mater, American University.  More than 175 undergraduate and graduate students dedicated their time and energy to demonstrate their business skills to 55 judges.  The teams were tasked to analyze a real-world business case, develop a problem solving approach and prepare their recommendations. They were then given ten minutes to present their case and recommendations, followed by a question-and-answer session with the judges.

Scores of books have been written on the topic of leadership, and here are a few observations from the case competition to add to the list:

  • “Grace under pressure” is an underrated characteristic of good leaders.

During the final round of presentations, one team had serious technical difficulties with their presentation. Although the slides projected on the screen, the images on the slides did not.  The undergraduate team members did a great job of staying calm and continuing through their presentation despite the snafu. Maintaining your composure, even in the most challenging situations, can be very effective.

  • Experience doesn’t always trump hard work.

Without any prior knowledge of the company, its products or the market and business situation, students immersed themselves in solving the problems defined in the case. Given only 45 hours to dissect the business case and prepare their recommendations,  the teams demonstrated insight and knowledge in their presentation to the judges. It was clear that most of the participants had pulled all-nighters in order to compete, while still maintaining their typical course load.

  • Collaboration is a guiding principle of the leaders of the future.

In her followup article to the competition, Nicole Federica, Digital Communications Assistant at American University wrote:  “Pamela Campagna, MBA ’84, and president of BLUE SAGE Consulting Inc., a business and management consulting firm based out of Massachusetts is an experienced judge.  She explained what she looks for in a winning team: “a sense of collaboration amongst team members” as well as “the fact that they’ve worked together in analysis to really identify the business issues and to come up with some creative ways to solve the problems.”

Have you found leadership in different places?