Kellogg School of Management Dean Sally Blount Inspires at High Alpha Speaker Series

by Sharmin Kent

The advantages and challenges of working at a startup or a growth-stage tech company are unique, in that most of us must be able to play several roles at once. But that versatility can also translate to more empathetic, well-rounded and better-educated team members. It all depends on how a person takes stock of her own personality, intelligence and experience, and how she uses those attributes to develop power and influence.

This is Sally Blount’s area of expertise. As dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Blount leads one of the top business programs in the world. She also keeps her hand in teaching, and during the High Alpha Speaker Series this month she offered the audience a condensed version of one of her classes. The mini-lecture and interview with High Alpha Managing Partner Scott Dorsey revealed that leadership, particularly in business, requires a balance of self-knowledge, curiosity about other people and commitment to team-building.

Maximizing Personal Capital

Personal capital is as difficult to earn as it is easy to spend. According to research by Blount and others, personal capital is composed of three elements: personality, intelligence and experience. Blount walked the audience through each element, explaining that while a person can rarely change the hand they’ve been dealt by fate, she can invest in understanding her learning style, comfort with conflict, and tenacity.

Blount also reminded the audience that intelligence is much more than IQ: emotional, social, organizational and strategic intelligence all play a part in how a person navigates the world. Understanding the emotions of others and developing an ability to modulate her own personality to fit the team she’s in gives someone the power to work more effectively with others.

Why “Culture Fit” is More Than a Buzzword

Self-awareness goes beyond simply knowing what makes a person tick; it’s also an integral element of team building. The term “culture fit” has become a buzzword in tech, but it’s much more important than people realize — and when done well, it can lend teams and individuals a credibility and comfort that’s rare, especially as they scale. “When you fit a culture, you’re a lot happier,” Blount said. Aspiring leaders owe it to themselves to know what role they play in a team, and how to encourage a wide range of opinions.

“It’s not about you being perfect,” she said. “It’s about building a team with multiple capabilities.” Blount referred to how diversity of personality and ideas as well as cultural diversity — say, a naturally aggressive East Coaster dialing back her tendency toward directness to increase the comfort of her more easygoing Midwestern team members — can draw out the best and most useful elements of individuals, creating “a harmony of voices” and a more productive team.

Blount’s hour with the audience highlighted the need for leaders to learn as much about themselves as they learn about their teams, and the challenge of balancing different opinions and voices. But she also offered practical advice for Indianapolis’ aspiring leaders and gave each person a clear roadmap to self-improvement and empowerment — advice they’ll need to become the state’s next leaders in tech.