Holly Barrett (MBA ’86) and her friend and former Intel colleague Wanjiku Kamau (MBA ’19), attending a Michelle Obama event in Phoenix on Feb. 12, 2019.
Holly Barrett (MBA ’86) and her friend and former Intel colleague Wanjiku Kamau (MBA ’19), attending a Michelle Obama event in Phoenix on Feb. 12, 2019.

Leadership is in the small moments

Alumna and Executive Connections mentor Holly Barrett reminds students that you don’t need a title to lead
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A cornerstone of the W. P. Carey Full-time MBA experience, Executive Connections pairs students with a volunteer group of senior executives who coach mentees as they embark on new career opportunities. Holly Barrett (MBA ’86), chief financial officer for ambulatory and pharmacy services at Phoenix-based hospital system Banner Health, starts by asking students what they want to achieve. “The best way I can assist is by identifying what success means to each student,” she says.

Having tough conversations helps students identify and achieve meaningful professional and personal goals. “There’s a lot of future career questions mentees need to answer honestly for themselves,” says Barrett. “If your career trajectory is based on how other people are going to look at you, you may achieve success, but you may not enjoy it as much as you otherwise would have.”

In her five years as an Executive Connections mentor, Barrett has met many excellent students. “They all have a unique story with varying aspirations,” she says. “Sharing my successful (and unsuccessful) experiences helps them in many ways and, ultimately, I learn from them, too.”

Barrett enjoys sharing leadership tips because she strongly believes leadership is a life skill and not just a professional skill. “Every day presents large and small opportunities to lead, but many don’t start their MBA program thinking of themselves as leaders,” she says. “My goal is for students to see that W. P. Carey is providing them with a safe place to practice their leadership skills in team projects, internships, etc., so that when they graduate, they are more confident and capable of stepping into those day-to-day and formal leadership opportunities.”

Part of Barrett’s role as a mentor is teaching students the importance of growth. “If your skills grow, then your capabilities grow, along with your network,” she says. “Success is the achievement of the virtuous loop, where everybody is getting and giving something. That’s leadership.”

Mentorship comes with a significant payoff for Barrett. “When someone accomplishes something they weren’t seeing in themselves, that’s rewarding,” she says. “My role is to remind students of their greatness. They have the skills they need to go for it and often just need us to help them with their self-confidence.”

Barrett hopes to inspire students to achieve success on their terms. “Remember, you do not need an official title to be a leader,” she says. “Opportunities to lead surround you every day, so do not be afraid to step up and take that role when you should.”

Meet more Executive Connections mentors: