In February, my MBA Association (MBAA) Co-President Mike Treiser and I were speaking to a classroom full of prospective students about leadership opportunities at Fuqua. Just before the session, I had found out one of my best friends was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

I decided to be candid in the session about where I was personally, describing the reality that Fuqua is in no way impenetrable to outside forces, be it personal to our own lives or the lives of billions around the world. But these forces, good and bad, only further reinforce the supportive community values instilled in every Fuqua student. They also aid in providing a real-world ‘leadership lab’ here at Fuqua, where students can get first-hand experience in crisis management, humility, and embracing vulnerability as leaders.

As I write this—entering my fifth week of working with Mike on the MBAA to represent and lead our student body without seeing each other in person other than a wave from across a grocery store parking lot—I can’t help but think those words have never been more true. Overnight, the entire script of how to be an in-person community that prides itself on meaningful interpersonal relationships and candid, open dialogues was thrown out the window. Mike and I, along with our incredible 11-person cabinet, hardworking administrators, and supportive classmates came together to create a virtual Fuqua Family. In a very short period of time, we organized virtual Fuqua Fridays accompanied by toasts from esteemed community members, at-home cooking competitions, book clubs, weekly trivia, exercise classes, movie nights, dance parties—the list just keeps going.

While the MBAA would have loved to have an in-person start to our roles, I am all for seeing the silver lining. The COVID-19 crisis has given each of us a crash course in crisis management and leadership in times of uncertainty while we’re in Fuqua’s leadership lab. So I’m sharing just a few of the many lessons I’ve come to learn these past several weeks while handling the COVID crisis with my fellow student leaders.

In times of crisis, give yourself the time and space to process your own thoughts and feelings.

After returning from spring break, the COVID crisis escalated really quickly. I found myself playing whack-a-mole with emails, phone calls, and texts about everything ranging from virtual classes, coursepack deliveries, virtual events, and next year’s schedule change. It’s easy in a crisis of this scale to throw yourself into work and leave little to no time for yourself.

At the recommendation of a wise classmate, I started setting strict rules and boundaries to create time each day to process what is going on. For me, music has been a great route for unplugging and checking in with the inevitable emotional impact of a global pandemic (Joni Mitchell, Maggie Rogers, and Max Richter are some personal favorites). I personally have felt an incredible sense of loss, but I’ve been inspired and touched by the kindness and vulnerability of our classmates as we have come together to support each other through these trying times.  

If you can’t be proactive, make sure you are thoughtfully reactive.

Especially during the first week or two of this term, it felt like information and updates from the CDC, local government, and school were coming at us a mile a minute. During times of crisis, proactivity becomes nearly impossible, but the scenario still demands quick decisions and action.

Assistant Dean Steve Misuraca, who has been a trusted mentor and friend to Mike and me throughout all this, taught us the critical first step in the face of new information: a five-minute breather. This simple reminder to process information before taking action has helped me make more thoughtful decisions with a clear mind. For you U.S. history buffs, I call this my mini Lincoln Letter Moment. For fans of “The Office” television series, it’s like when Pam waits to transfer a call to her boss Michael Scott: “Sometimes I don’t put Michael through until he’s already said something. I look at it as a practice run for him. He usually does better on the second attempt.”

Thankfully we have co-presidents for the MBAA and clubs here at Fuqua, and Mike has been my Pam since day one on the job 😊.

Camera shots of Mike and Sarah side by side in a Zoom window on a computer screen; Fuqua's leadership lab
A familiar site on Zoom

It’s okay to make mistakes, but transparency, honesty, and humility are non-negotiables.

Transparency was always a key mission for the platform Mike and I put together. However, it has taken on a whole new meaning in a virtual world with COVID. These past few weeks we’ve been faced with many questions where the answer is (1) likely to change in the future, (2) still in discussion, or (3) completely unknown.

I quickly learned the best answer is the truthful one, even if it’s “I don’t know.” For example, the schedule change for next year will certainly have implications for clubs and their planning. We’re still having discussions about what the fall will look like from a student activity perspective. Over time, we will continue to know more and more.

But sometimes answers change, or they don’t exist at all yet. I have found the best conversations result from honesty and transparency, rather than well-polished responses where we act as if we know everything. Because anyone who tells you they’ve got all the answers at a time like this is most definitely lying.

As I reflect on these lessons, among many others, I am grateful to be part of a community that prides itself on being truly student-led. This leadership lab has given me a safe space to make mistakes, try out new things, and develop my own personal brand of leadership—an experience that I will benefit from long after graduation. But more than anything, I am blessed to be working alongside the leaders that make up the entire Fuqua community. Everyone has been working tirelessly to make sure their corner or section of Fuqua keeps running in this virtual world. This power of teamwork, resilience, and a supportive community in the face of adversity is maybe the most important lesson of them all.