What is leadership?’, ‘What are the criteria for successful leadership?’, ‘How does an individual develop into the best possible leader?’ …although there are thousands of papers and articles published with a multitude of concepts and definitions, they can hardly shed light on all our questions. Since the start of our MBA programme, we have been on a voyage to contemplate this theme through a combination of the Management Praxis core course, the Cambridge Venture Project (CVP) and the Cambridge Leadership Seminar series.

In Management Praxis, we’ve been learning how to lead and manage both people and processes through a variety of team exercises. With a class of 39 nationalities and a host of differing professional backgrounds our management skills are inevitably tested to extremes. Looking back at the class so far, the very first session especially stands out:

We were split into two teams and everyone given a card with a different geometric figure on the back. The two teams had to complete a large picture comprised of these symbols in the correct order, as quickly as possible. We were not allowed to show our symbol to any other students, instead relying solely on verbal communication. The process of understanding each individual’s cards in relation to your own proved much more fraught than expected. Most of us struggled to understand one another – repeating questions in the ensuing confusion. Through this simple exercise we quickly realised just how difficult it is to cooperate towards a common goal, let alone one with various stakeholder objectives.

Since October, we have simultaneously been engaged in the Cambridge Venture Project (CVP), designed to hone our leadership and management skills through a real ‘live’ project. In study groups of four to five students, we provide consultancy services to clients based either in Cambridge or the wider UK. My group’s client is Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER), an organisation which designs and manufactures solar cars, with our objective being to make CUER more attractive to sponsors.

Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) is the UK’s number one for solar vehicle development.

Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) is the UK’s number one for solar vehicle development.

Our group comprises five students from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with a huge diversity of backgrounds, specialisms, and personalities. Given the time pressures of the project- our first of the year, we allocated tasks according to personal strengths. One team member was the natural choice for client and mentor liaison, while I am managing market research and data analysis, in light of my consultancy background. Yet even in such a cohesive arrangement, we still needed to overcome conflicts arising within the group, not least around time management. This is where the notion of ‘productive tension’ comes in, a concept emphasised in our Management Praxis classes. Cambridge is itself a place of constantly conflicting opportunities or ‘tensions’- with more activities, debates and sports clubs than you can imagine. Working in a team of MBAs has shown me just how important it is to understand the needs and priorities of each member to keep that management tension ‘productive’.

There may be no simple answer to the working practice questions we encounter; however, we must continually seek ways to review our behavioral tendencies and polish our competencies. Luckily, there are a wealth of mature classmates and supportive faculty members to facilitate this at Cambridge Judge Business School. By leveraging the opportunities presented by the MBA, I aim to heighten my skills and mind set to perform well in a range of management environments in the future.