How to Grow as a Female Leader: MBA Alumni Perspective |

How to Grow as a Female Leader: MBA Alumni Perspective

By Tania DeSa

Updated December 4, 2019 Updated December 4, 2019

The MBA Journey is an intense, all-consuming adventure of a lifetime. When I think back to my international MBA program at ESADE in Barcelona, it seems like a dream. Not only am I reminded of long hours of group work and prepping for case study competitions but also MBA interschool athletic competitions, hosting international gastrofests to celebrate the class diversity and of course experiencing the wealth of culture that Barcelona offers.

There are a hundred ways to grow as a person through the MBA program yet it was my growth as a female leader at ESADE that surprised me the most.

If you are open the opportunity, an MBA program can stretch you beyond what you knew was possible and help you develop vital leadership skills. Here are five tips to maximize the MBA experience as an ambitious female spirit:

1. Get clear on your objectives.

From the day I declared I was leaving my pharmaceutical sales job in Toronto and moving to Spain to start an MBA program, the most frequent question was “Why did you choose ESADE?” My answer was clear: to upgrade my management skills, learn how to work in diverse teams and grow my international network to land a post grad job abroad. What I didn’t realize was the vast variety of answers that exist to this question. People do MBAs for a multitude of different reasons – each one valid and important. So, get clear on your intentions and clearly articulate your WHY. In fact, your answer to this question is an opportunity to differentiate yourself and set clear intentions for your whole experience.With your objectives clear and present, it will make it easier to choose how you spend your most precious asset…time.

2. Put your hand up faster

Classroom discussion will become a way of life. You will start to feel comfortable expressing your ideas freely by 8:45am (even before your second espresso). In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg shares a story about the greater likelihood that males keep their hands up compared to females when it comes to open discussion forums. There’s truth in this and power in the awareness. From my observation in class discussions to corporate boardrooms, men seem more comfortable in confidently blurting while women tend to organize their thoughts fully before speaking. Let your inner monologue speed up or you will miss the speaking opportunity altogether. Throw your hand up and trust that you will have the answer by the time it’s your turn to speak. Risk imperfection over silence.

3. Test different roles

Group work is inevitable, so maximize the chance to explore your leadership skills. You may never again get the chance to do such a broad variety of group work within such a short timeframe so experiment with different roles. If you tend to gravitate towards a natural leadership role, try taking on a supporting role. If you tend to get assigned tasks, try stepping up to be delegator. MBA programs are the greatest lab, so experiment often, fail fast and take the learnings forward. Become aware of the impact you are having on your group members, which behaviors and roles enable your greatest influence as a female leader? Your comfort in different roles will only add to your leadership acumen and capacity in the next stage of your career.

4. Own your worth

There’s a 98% chance that you will develop ‘comparitis’. It is a non-fatal yet annoying condition whereby you will compare yourself to your MBA peers. The benefit of this non-medical MBA condition is that it can be motivating and push you beyond your comfort zone. However, if this condition becomes chronic, it can call your self worth and ultimate purpose into question. The best treatment regime is the following:

  • Revisit your unique objectives (see Tip #1 above).
  • Recognize and lean into your own strengths as a female leader. What are you awesome at and how will you leverage it? Let your unique talent lead as a differentiator and forget trying to work on your weaknesses.
  • Remember that the only comparison with a base in reality is improvement on who you were the day before. Celebrate the small wins and recognize improvements in yourself and your leadership skills in order to fuel further development.

5. Create community

A sense of community is key to creating meaningful connections. Many channels for bonding exist- clubs, case study competitions, cohorts, industry alliances. If there is no established women in leadership club at your dream school, there is incentive in creating the community from the grassroots. In my first month of the MBA program, my two flatmates (females from Colombia and Switzerland) and I realized that women represented the usual 20% in our MBA class. We decided to host an ESADE women of the class of 2010 evening in which all the women of the class could come together for a social evening to get to know one another at the beginning of the MBA. It was a spectacular event and one which sparked many new connections and friendships between the classes. If the community you crave doesn’t exist, create it. Community and connection is important. The MBA journey is an intense one of growth and development and you are going to want to have supporters and champions in your corner along the way. Start building your champions from day one.

Executing these tips will support your growth as a female leader and also empower you to make the most of your the MBA journey. You may be surprised at how fast and how much your leadership skills grow in such a short time. It’s bound to be the all-consuming adventure of a lifetime.



About Tania DeSa

Tania DeSa is a personal branding strategist, leadership coach and corporate trainer whose mission is to inspire professionals to be seen and heard. She helps ambitious professionals articulate their brilliance then kick up their communication style to add value and achieve results – in business and in life. Tania holds an International MBA from ESADE Business School in Spain and Peking Universityin China. Leveraging her professional coach training and sales and marketing management roles in the global healthcare industry, she is passionate about empowering managers to get to their next level of leadership.

Follow her on Twitter or get a free personal branding tutorial at

This article was originally published in September 2014 . It was last updated in December 2019

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