Case Study: How Would You Lead?

The CEO of a start-up company is charged with analyzing the pros and cons of entering a team competition. It’s the last competition of the year and the company’s investment dollars depend on finishing at the top. But our team’s product has recently had problems that have gotten worse every competition until now, and the chances of it going bad during the competition are concerning, and it could put one of our employees in danger.  On the other hand, if we don’t compete then we we’ll have a significant amount of debt, lose our largest investor, and as a result, jeopardize the future of your company. As CEO, what would you decide? And how would you convince the people who disagree to follow your lead?

At long last, more than one week after getting started with orientation, we finally had our first day of class at Kellogg. The class is part of our orientation, which lasts for a three week period. At Kellogg, we take this as part of our leadership curriculum, in the Management and Organizations (i.e. MORS) department, which unlike most schools begins before classes ever start.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, MORS classes look like they should be a lot of fun and cover some really interesting topics that are critical for business leaders at the highest level. For example, in our orientation class, we’ve already taken part in a bidding competition to analyze group decision-making, we’ve watched 12 Angry Men to assess effective leadership and persuasion tactics (a staple at almost every MBA program), and we’ve taken part in multiple mock negotiations, where in one case we split off into teams of 3 and spent an hour negotiating with another team trying to agree on the terms of a partnership.

But on our first day, we took on a case study, which in retrospect was a really interesting case on decision-making. Sure we could have all guessed that it was about decision making before ever reading given the topic of the class, but in retrospect, most of us didn’t quite know how interesting the case would actually be.

In respect of the case, I won’t provide any of the details here, but in sum, we had to decide whether to compete or not given a myriad of facts (which are slightly different than I’ve described) and with unlimited time and information – characteristics of many of the best cases. As you might suspect, a lot of people used a decision tree to come up with a solution. Others took that further by putting numbers inside the boxes and performing calculations to figure out the respective future payoffs. A third group relied more on intuition. And a final set of people, chose more of a guessing methodology.

Our professor divided the class into groups of five, as we do in most of our class scenarios, to discuss the case and come up with a group recommendation, To Compete, or Not To Compete. And our recommendations were based on the case write up we had read the day before.

The hard part was that we had to decide what to do as a group, which was especially difficult given that no group had a team where everyone had made the same decision. In my group, three people decided To Compete, and two people, including me did not want To Compete.

The purpose of the case was to teach us about decision-making, when time and information are limited,  where members of a team disagree about the decision, and where the stakes and pressure are higher than usual.

In the end, what we found is that it wasn’t only a case about decision-making, it was also a case about leadership. How to make decisions for an entire organization. How to persuade and influence a team to follow our lead. And how to communicate that message, both to a group of five people, all who read and analyzed the case differently. A seemingly impossible task for class, and what would appear a herculean one in real life.

As you might suspect, there was no right answer to the specific case, but instead it was a good way to spur interesting debate and teach us lessons many of us will never forget. Bravo MORS for a fun introduction to Kellogg. I look forward to the MORS classes next week, and to the other classes once Kellogg officially begins in two weeks

Stay tuned for updates on class!

Saturday, September 11th, 2010 Business School, Leadership

2 Comments to Case Study: How Would You Lead?

September 17, 2010

Jeremy, thanks for sharing this post. Case studies sounds like one of the most interesting parts of b-school. Please share more about your experiences with them as you progress throughout the year.

Jeremy C Wilson
September 17, 2010

@Anonymous Thanks for reading and for your comment. I’ll be sure to share more about my experience with cases here at Kellogg. I suspect some classes will lend themselves better for that than other. Stay tuned!

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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