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Leadership Reflections: Heather O’Connor

Group photo of the 2017-18 McLauchlan Leadership Fellows

We conducted an interview with Heather O’Connor, Professional Evening MBA student, who participated in our McLauchlan Leadership Series this past year. The following post is that conversation, edited for clarity.

Heather O'Connor, MBA student Q: What were some of your biggest takeaways from the series?

Heather O’Connor: So much of leadership is awareness—awareness of self, of team members’ strengths and dynamics, and of the organization’s strategy, vision and politics. The McLauchlan series helped me gain a new perspective on some of those nuances they don’t necessarily teach you in your own work environment. Exposure to these concepts through our session leaders, coaches and our McLauchlan helped me to understand how universal leadership is. So, not only do I feel like I can head back to my own office with this exclusive, insider viewpoint, but I can use that same knowledge wherever I land in my career.

Each session reinforced the sessions before it, so every month I felt like the picture became clearer and clear.

Energy leadership was especially enlightening. How people perceive you is so powerful—and can benefit you, or not. I certainly had always known that about other leaders. Suddenly, it clicked for me: “Now, I’m the one in the leader’s shoes.” Not only do I need to watch the energy I give off, but I am now that much more empathetic toward leaders I may have criticized in the past. They were just doing their best and learning in the process, which is all I’m doing as well though I am very well equipped now that I’ve been through the series.

Our last session was extremely powerful. Two business leaders shared their experiences in the trenches. Their stories demonstrate how leadership really is a journey with universal themes and lessons. We got some great advice on how to unlock some of the key challenges. We also heard one another’s leadership journeys. Everyone is bravely conquering their fears, stepping out of their own way in order to progress. I was inspired and touched by what my cohorts shared.

In the end, I have this new level of confidence—a stronger voice so that I can better advocate for myself and on my team’s behalf.  

Q: How will you apply what you learned to your studies as an MBA student?

HO: The McLauchlan fellowship makes me want to optimize every opportunity to deepen relationships with my Jenkins classmates before I graduate in December. So often we go to class, and even get paired up with classmates for projects, without really nurturing the connections or taking advantage of one another’s skills and talents. The McLauchlan experience was so rich and fulfilling because of the depth and breadth of experience and personalities of the fellows. We really bonded.

I feel extremely fortunate to still have one more semester to foster relationships with other Jenkins students—to round out my network and also to be of service to those who might benefit from my experience, skills or advice.

Q: How have you seen your leadership skills advance throughout this course? 

HO: There are so many discomforts of leadership I can face courageously, but decisive leadership has been a struggle. In our last session, Kevin Allen told us a story about riding out a hurricane on Long Island with his mother and siblings. His mother never let on how afraid she was. That story will stick with me: my team needs me to display confidence, even as I falter internally. I now have this sense of the guidance and vision my team is looking for from me. This was a real awakening.

I feel like my sense of where I fit in my current organization has just crystallized. Now, I can finally set my own course with confidence. And if it works out that that course is in my current organization, great!

Q: Are there any other insights or thoughts you’d like to share?

HO: It was such a privilege to have been selected for the McLauchlan program. I am a different, more enlightened and confident leader—and person—than I was when I started in January. One of Leigh’s mantras is “wake up, kick a**, repeat.” I totally identified with that. Now, I’m on a new level of kicka** than I was before.


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