Colin Tierney




United States





By Colin Tierney

Lessons from MBAT: Trust, Camaraderie, and Leading from Behind

Last month, around 200 of our class travelled to France to compete in the MBA Tournament, hosted by HEC Paris. The Olympic-like competition brought over 1500 students from global business schools to compete in sport, dance, battle of the bands, and charity contributions. While the competition lasted just a weekend, the thrilling mix of competitive drama and team support across the wide ranging event made it one of the most rewarding events I’ve ever competed in. I cheered for my classmates just as hard as I played, and repeatedly found myself in awe of the talent and effort displayed.

As I competed in only two events (and many of my classmates competed 3 or more), I was a fan more often than an athlete over the weekend. In this capacity, I noticed a distinct and nearly tangible sense of trust and camaraderie amongst our group. We just felt close, tight-knit and supportive. This trust is not achieved overnight: it’s forged over months of group projects, conferences, lively classroom discussions, coffees, pints, jogs, and karaoke. This trust and support allows people to be vulnerable in the spotlight and take risks to achieve great things: we went toe-to-toe against Olympic rowers, sang at the top of our lungs in front of a frenzied crowd, and pulled together comebacks to win basketball games at the buzzer. I have always loved sport for how it can unlock human potential and inspire the athlete and the fan, but what I most appreciated from the MBAT experience was the role sport creates in forging bonds amongst teammates which few other endeavours can replicate. On top of the foundation of trust, we created a shared experience and bond which none of us will forget.

Reflecting on how I might apply these observations to the future, I see that trust is not just essential to a successful team, but that the supportive fan is a critical role of a successful leader.

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, he describes this concept, often referred to as “leading from behind”:

“I always remember the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

This supportive, sometimes subtle (other times, incredibly loud from the stands) form of leadership enables people not just to perform better in the moment, but grow their capabilities over time. As Bill Bradley says, “leadership is unlocking people’s potential to be better”, and leaders are not only captains and starting players, they’re must be on the sideline cheering in the moment and coaching for the future.

In this spirit, I know the Oxford Saïd Class of 2019 will be enthusiastic fans to help next year’s class achieve a fourth straight MBAT championship.

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