Defining My Leadership Style at UC Davis

Collaborative Leadership Program becomes foundational to my future

What sets the best leaders apart from the rest?

  • Is it confidence?
  • Is it decision making under pressure?
  • Is it collaboration, or fostering psychological safety for your staff?

These are the questions I asked with 13 of my peers at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s three-day Collaborative Leadership Retreat in Monterey, California.

The retreat is the culmination of two years of work in the Full-Time MBA program. It’s a rare opportunity to meet and learn from influential C-suite executives across several industries. It also helped my introspection—looking inward to define leadership through my eyes.

I’d like to share what I found.

The Davis Difference

Deepi Agarwal and Fernanda Castro Villegas listening to an executive
MBA students Fernanda Castro Villegas (left) and Deepi Agarwal (right) listen to advice from an executive at the Collaborative Leadership retreat. 

Since joining the UC Davis MBA program in fall 2020, the Collaborative Leadership Program allowed me to develop leadership skills through workshops, fireside chats with industry leaders and a service project with the Yolo County Food Bank. Yet this leadership program takes it a step further—not only did I explore my own strengths, I had the chance to collaborate with others to complete complex initiatives successfully.

As a tech marketer, I have experience working with many multinational corporations (MNC’s) in strategic roles, including Synaptics Incorporated here in the U.S., and many other organizations in India. When I relocated to Texas about five years ago, I took time to reflect on my journey and career.

I decided to define my style of leadership: I am passionate about bringing technology to people that could help them lead a better and healthy life. I also want to make decisions as a leader based more on facts and less on intuition.

This introspection led me to the UC Davis MBA program.

The STEM-designated MBA and its emphasis on analytics and collaborative leadership became the pillars of my educational experience.

C-Suite Executives: “Think for the greater good”

As I packed my bags for the culminating three-day Collaborative Leadership Program retreat in Monterey, I mulled over the key takeaways of the pre-trip reading assignment—Scott Keller’s book, "CEO Excellence." Not surprisingly, Keller’s themes of commitment, collaboration, communication and more popped up throughout the weekend.

Group photo from the 2022 Collaborative Leadership Retreat
14 MBA students joined staff and c-suite executives in Monterey for the 2022 Collaborative Leadership retreat. 

What a whirlwind weekend!

In just 72 hours, we spent time with 10 exceptional leaders, including several UC Davis alumni—Paul Bianchi, Roger Halualani, Michael Hurlston, Russ Klein, Michelle Leyden Li, Philip Mader, Kristen MaKieve, Joncarlo Mark, Stephen Newberry and Tony Rucci.

It was inspiring to hear about their journeys, and their humility, commitment and dedication to nurturing the leaders of tomorrow. They encouraged us to always “think for the greater good,” one of the defining characteristics of great leaders.

Russ Klein, principal at Whisper Capital LLC and former CEO of the American Marketing Association, hit a chord with me as he talked about transforming organizations. UC Davis MBA alumna Kristy MaKeive, CEO of Healthy Rural California, led a panel to senior leaders on “Transitioning from a Manager to a Leader.” Then Michael Hurlston, president and CEO of Synaptics and a long-time Silicon Valley executive, shared great advice with us: “Face the difficult times and listen to the music; don’t try to avoid it.”  

Lesson in Authenticity: Our Legacy Statements

One of the defining characteristics of notable leaders comes from their ability to stand out from the crowd.

One of the evening sessions during our retreat ended with an eye-opening lecture about discovering our authentic leadership style. Tony Rucci, president emeritus of America250 Foundation, helped us take our first step in the direction of writing a personal legacy statement, a focused and meaningful statement on what we would like people to remember about us.

“To be successful, you do not have to keep your personal and professional lives separate, necessarily. In fact, your legacy statement comes from your personal life story,” Rucci said. “The actions of the best leaders are guided by the three P’s: passion, performance and principle.”

Every leader must define those three P’s if they hope to enact lasting change. It was exciting to work with my cohort to craft our legacy statements and present them to the group the next day.

Putting Leadership into Practice

Deepi Agarwal MBA 22 photo at Gallagher Hall
Agarwal says her decision to obtain her MBA from UC Davis will help her make "a difference in the world, leading by example and inspiring others."

Throughout the weekend retreat, I witnessed and put into practice each of UC Davis’ four pillars that makes an effective collaborative leader:

  1. Inspires others to achieve

  2. Helps others to succeed

  3. Builds trust and brings positive energy

  4. Is humble and is willing to learn from others

Upon reflection, it’s exactly what I did during my two years here.

The UC Davis Full-Time MBA program gave me several opportunities to dive deep into leadership principles, and put them into practice with my cohort. For example, I served as the director of the student ambassadors program in my first year. During the pandemic, our team of 10 student ambassadors led the initiative to revamp the program to make it more relevant and accessible to connect with and help prospective students.

In addition, as a team lead for multiple projects, I experienced the change that collaboration and communication can bring to relationships. During our client consulting work for the Integrated Management Project capstone course, I led a team of five peers, all with diverse backgrounds and views. Close and regular communication created an environment of trust and collaboration to turn our diversity into a key strength. 

After crossing the graduation stage, I am excited to begin my post-MBA journey. I will carry with me these strong foundational principles I learned at UC Davis, coupled with a great network of leaders. I look forward to making a difference in the world, leading by example and inspiring others.