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Kellogg Dean Sally Blount urged students to maintain a low-ego, high-ambition mindset throughout their careers — and to communicate with others in a way that moves them to action.

Dean Sally Blount

Dean Sally Blount on leadership

‘Do work out of passion, love and belief,’ Blount tells students

By Daniel P. Smith

11/11/2011 - A leadership recipe: start with strong, inspired work; build relationships; foster dialogue.

Such was the no-nonsense message Kellogg Dean Sally Blount delivered at Northwestern University’s downtown Chicago campus recently to students in Kellogg’s Saturday MBA Program.

Throughout her 45-minute talk, Blount urged students to maintain a low-ego, high-ambition mindset.

“You want to be known as a person who makes things happen, but does so in an understated, collaborative way,” she said. “People want to work with people like this.”

Blount, who held positions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and New York University’s Stern School of Business before becoming dean of Kellogg in 2010, said much of her professional journey has revolved around finding her own intellectual voice. Over time, she said, she developed the ability to follow her inner instincts rather than react to social expectations.

“I’ve been rewarded every time I’ve hunkered down and done what I believe in,” she said, encouraging students to use Kellogg’s courses to find areas that excite and enthuse them. “That has to be our goal — to do work out of passion, love and belief.”

In the era of Facebook and LinkedIn, sincere relationship building has too often acquiesced to networking, which can limit authenticity. Blount stressed the value of mindful and consistent personal connections.

“Building a relationship creates reasons to follow up,” Blount said, adding that young professionals should also seek sponsors. “While mentors can give advice, sponsors can create opportunities and ways to develop new skill sets.”

As head of Kellogg, Blount said she’s in constant conversation. She reminded students that they, too, will find themselves in continual dialogue as leaders.
“The way you’ll be productive as a leader is by making the most out of these conversations,” Blount said. “You must communicate with others in a way that moves them to action.”

Blount was the latest speaker in a series organized by Part-Time students, who each quarter invite an accomplished professional to share insights and perspectives on leadership.

Kellogg student Mohan Kompella said the dean’s words about building personal connections and setting realistic work-life expectations (a topic that arose during a post-talk Q&A session) were particularly relevant.

“Networking may be in vogue, but she was clear that relationship building is really where long-term success lies,” said Kompella, who helped organize the Oct. 15 event. “The idea of relationship building and her challenge for us to understand all phases of our lives and the tradeoffs that might have to be made were important words to hear.”