The Mantra at Darden: “Trust the Process”

HIs friends call him the "Happy Lawyer"

“Trust the process.”  This is the mantra of Darden.

As we assembled as a class during the first week of school last August, many of our initial questions were greeted with the response, “trust the process”.  As we wondered aloud about the classes and schedule to come over the next 21 months, we were told, “trust the process.”  After a few days of wondering, watching and settling in, we started comforting each other with the phrase. “Trust the process.”

Not long ago, I attended a “belt ceremony” for my six-year old son, Jameson, a budding Tae Kwon Do student.  After six months of studying his forms, he had earned his green belt, and I had the opportunity to see him receive it.  As he stood among his fellow students waiting to be called to receive his new green belt, he was among middle schoolers and several adults.  As each stepped forward to receive the green belt from the Grand Master, I realized that these diverse students had succeeded by committing to a shared mindset.  Each had achieved this level of accomplishment by learning a process.  In this case, the process consisted of a series of forms, or movements.  “Down block, down block, punch!”  My son would whisper to himself as he practiced.  “Why are you practicing that way?” I had asked.  His simple response was, “The master told me.”  As my own “karate kid”, he had trusted his teachers, himself, and the process.  Now he was being promoted, and he was proud of his new green belt!

Coincidentally, during last term, we started our Operations course, the study of how a system takes inputs and produces outputs.  I soon learned that the goal of the system is not efficiency, as efficiency for its own sake can be meaningless.  Ultimately, Operations is the study of how to best put a process around your resources to make more money.  Indeed, one of the disciplines for efficient operations is the Six-Sigma process.  Through the Six-Sigma system, practitioners advance into differing degrees of proficiency, with the opportunity to ultimately earn the title of Six-Sigma black belt.  I started thinking about the parallels between my son’s quest to earn his belts in Tae Kwon Do and the ability to hone business skills by learning business processes.

Then it struck me that The Process at Darden – to which we had been advised to adhere closely – is just as much a discipline as the forms of Tae Kwon Do or Six-Sigma.  As a time-proven method of forging MBA-equipped leaders, the inputs to The Process are people with a wide range of experiences and abilities.  The output of The Process is that penetrating managerial mindset — leaders with an enterprise perspective.

So I began to realize why my classmates and I had all of those questions at the beginning.  The Process at Darden is not about efficiency, because the school is certainly not an assembly line for MBAs.  Rather, the gears of The Process, which consist of the case method, learning teams and mandatory On Grounds, eschew pure efficiency.   The Process demands more from the students, because the result is a higher-quality output.

Right now, I feel like I might be somewhere around a green belt in The Process at Darden.  When I reflect on how little I knew 11 months ago, I realized that by submitting to The Process, I have already made giant leaps from the white belt I wore when I started.  And in surveying the opportunities at Darden to come, I am confident that by May of 2012 my MBA will be the equivalent of a black belt in business, thanks to The Process at Darden.

Peter Vanderloo is an in-house lawyer at a well-known tech company in the first year of the Executive MBA program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. His previous posts at Poets&Quants for Execs:

Meet Peter: He’s a Darden Student Blogging on his EMBA Journey

The Fundamental Value Proposition of an EMBA Program: Personal Transformation

Work-Life Balance in An EMBA Program? What Balance?

A Generous Gift in an MBA Experience: A Learning Team

On the Grounds

When You’re CEO for the Day–Or Class

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