MBA student, Ananya Bala shares insights into how her leadership journey has helped her to motivate the diverse group of classmates who make up the MBA band.

What is a leader? I knew leadership development was the cornerstone of IMD’s MBA, but I didn’t really get it when I first started. Images of famous leaders would flood my mind, but I wasn’t sure how to be a leader. Like most of us, I would read the Harvard Business Review articles about leadership, soft skills, and collaboration, but I still couldn’t overcome my bias of viewing hard skills as king.

But slowly, as the months rolled by, I started to understand the significance of leadership. My own leadership journey began in a small room in IMD’s Bignami building, where the MBA band rehearses every Friday evening.

I’ve always loved music — it moves me like nothing else. So, when I discovered that IMD had won the Battle of the Bands at last year’s MBAT, I was eager to form a band this year. Not because of the competition but because I’ve always wanted to be part of a band and never had the chance. (Cue the movie montage of seeking out different team members and convincing them to join the band.) By the beginning of February, we had a group of people serious about participating, and we had our first-ever band practice. And now, here we are in May, wrapping up our penultimate practice before this year’s Battle of the Bands. Looking back, I feel so happy about how far the team and I have come. I can certainly say I am not the same leader I was when we started.

The MBA program intentionally creates several opportunities for group work over the course of our program, and leading the band has been the most challenging project I’ve ever undertaken. How do you learn to accommodate different cultures and the ways they work? How do you establish a work ethic without making music feel like a chore? Where do we strike a balance between committing to the band and using the free time to destress and take time for ourselves?

From left: Fairuz Shariff, Beatriz Monreal, Susheel Kumar Variyath, Diego Nieto, Ananya Bala, Dinesh Nair, David Hobbs, Missing: Jakob Johansson, Juan David Romero Garcia, Martin Milotic

I learned the answer to these questions through many successes and many more failures. I’ve made so many mistakes in leading, but I feel incredibly lucky to have an open and supportive team that has given me the chance and the respect to try again. In the process, I think I now know a little more about what leadership really means.

So, what is a leader? For me, it is a person finding the belief to lead authentically. Someone who leans into who they truly are with courage and stays true to themselves even when things get uncomfortable. I ran into several conflicts — I had to fight my urge to control and allow my team members to enjoy time with family or go for a hike to reset mentally. I had to have difficult conversations with team members who weren’t aligned with team goals. I lost my temper, and I wanted to give up every day. But as I look back on this experience, I have learned what it is to inspire my peers: to listen openly, understand their goals, and create an environment in which they thrive. To connect and lead with emotion. And most importantly, I have learned not to lose myself in the process. I have learned to stay true to my passion and feel grateful for the time I have every week to make music.

As we approach this coming Friday’s Battle of the Bands in Paris, I will go into the competition inspired. I’m usually a little nervous when I go on stage, but this time I’m fairly calm. And I think it’s because I go onto the stage as a “we” rather than an “I.”


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