“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

Whitney Houston

Last weekend, I participated as a judge at the 20th Annual Kogod Case Competition at my alma mater, American University.

More than 175 undergraduate and graduate students dedicated their time and energy to demonstrate their business skills to 55 judges. The teams were tasked to analyze a real-world business case, develop a problem-solving approach, and prepare their recommendations. They were then given ten minutes to present their case and recommendations, followed by a question-and-answer session with the judges.

Scores of books have been written on the topic of leadership, and here are a few observations from the case competition to add to the list:

“Grace under pressure” is an underrated characteristic of good leaders

During the final round of presentations, one team had serious technical difficulties with their presentation. Although the slides were projected on the screen, the images on the slides were not.

The undergraduate team members did a great job of staying calm and continuing through their presentation despite the snafu. Maintaining your composure can be very effective even in the most challenging situations.

Experience doesn’t always trump hard work

Without prior knowledge of the company, its products, or the market and business situation, students immersed themselves in solving the problems defined in the case. With only 45 hours to dissect the business case and prepare their recommendations, the teams demonstrated insight and knowledge in their presentation to the judges.

It was clear that most of the participants had pulled all-nighters in order to compete while still maintaining their typical course load.

Have you found leadership in different places?