An Intentional Approach to Leadership

An Intentional Approach to Leadership


UCLA Anderson’s head of student development coaches MBA teams

September 28, 2023

Matt Gorlick is UCLA Anderson’s executive director of student development
  • Matt Gorlick is executive director of student development for UCLA Anderson’s full-time, fully employed and executive MBA programs
  • Gorlick coaches teams and individuals to adopt an intentional approach to leadership
  • He stresses the great importance of self-awareness, and the value of bringing both introverted and extraverted energy to a team

Before earning his MBA at UCLA Anderson, double Bruin Matt Gorlick (B.A. ’04, ’13) spent nearly nine years working at Disney in various capacities. Since earning his degree, Gorlick has worked for his alma mater in a variety of roles, beginning in admissions with the school’s Fully Employed MBA program and then in executive coaching. He’s currently executive director of student development for all three of Anderson’s MBA programs. As Anderson evolves its programming in conjunction with the release of its new strategic plan, so do Gorlick’s role and responsibilities.

Q: Why don’t you start by describing your responsibilities?

My responsibilities as executive director of student development encompass three main areas: leadership development, team effectiveness and, for lack of a better term “self-awareness.” All of these are overlaid by team coaching and individual coaching and workshops.

It’s really about helping our students develop into leaders that work well with each other and who understand themselves and others.

Q: You start as soon as the first-year students arrive on campus, correct?

Yes, this really begins at the start of the MBA program with Leadership Foundations, which we now call Foundations of Inclusive Leadership. It’s the first course students take. I work with all the student teams during this onboarding process and, depending on the degree program, we have one or two modules around the idea of SALT, which stands for “self-awareness, leadership and teams.” Going forward, we revisit SALT through multiple stages during the two- or three-year MBA programs.

The focus of these sessions is about improving how we understand ourselves, improving our leadership, improving our interactions with others, how we value differences, and really respecting and working with each other as individuals.

Q: While you’re bringing to your role the latest innovations as well as elements from the school’s new strategic plan, a lot of this feels as if it’s already baked into the UCLA Anderson DNA.

One of the perspectives that I take is that we’re in the business of developing transformative leaders. That is our role, and in order to transform teams, organizations, industries or the world, you’ve got to be able to transform yourself. And to do that, you need to understand yourself.

That’s not always an easy thing — to reflect, to have that awareness. It’s needed in the MBA program in every interaction the students have. I can say, as a former Anderson student, that’s sort of the “self” piece.

If the only thing a team in a finance class is doing is talking about finance for 10 weeks, they’re leaving a lot of value and camaraderie on the table. I think we should be much more intentional about the way we lead and build relationships.

The big part of being a leader is how you engage with others. We want our students to get the experience of building and trusting teams that have the power to work effectively and efficiently. That’s something we do really well.

Q: What are some of the tools you use and how do you implement them?

We use an assessment called the Workplace Big Five, which is rooted in the five-factor model of personality. All the students take it and we spend a lot of time debriefing. One of the main things we talk about is extraversion and introversion. But we don’t label anyone as an extravert or an introvert, we discuss how much extraverted energy versus how much introverted energy you exert. You might think everyone at Anderson is super high on the extraversion scale, and that’s not true. It’s very balanced.

There is a great quote by Embright founder Amanda Blake, who does workshops with our students on embodied leadership, that goes, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” Individually, we’re always using our own unique lens. The Big Five, in many ways, is that lens. I’m not expecting anyone to somehow simultaneously wear every other person’s glasses every moment of the day. But it’s a good first step to recognize that people are wearing different glasses. If I can recognize that you’re seeing things differently than I am, and at the same time I’m not trying to make you become more like me, we can meet each other where we are and get the best out of both of us.

Such an important facet of being an effective leader is recognizing that a person who is highly introverted has a really interesting perspective that I can learn from. Just like if I’m highly extraverted, they can learn from me, too.

We might be quick to say, “I have a lot of introverted energy. I’d better fix that. I’d better somehow completely change my personality and become highly extraverted.” The problem with that is, you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater because the folks at the high end of extraversion have just as many challenges as the folks at the low end. They’re just different. I prefer that our students take this balanced ownership perspective and say, “My introverted nature helps me in a lot of ways, I want to grow those strengths. I want to offset where it gets me into trouble.” That, to me, is what this is so much about.

Q: How do you keep the momentum going after the initial work in Foundations of Inclusive Leadership?

A little of that is still to be determined, as the structure of the program is evolving. There are usually one or two follow-up touch points in the first year, when we revisit what we’ve worked on.

Students are constantly developing and practicing leadership skills. I am available to work with students and teams throughout their MBA, and I work with every team during the capstone process.”

So much of it is about having the students define for themselves how they want to show up as leaders in different contexts. There is something called nominalization. When we talk about team dynamics, we might find that two members of the team might prioritize building trust. That implies they are on the same page. But the problem is, when we speak on general levels, we don’t actually know what we’re talking about. A lot of my work is to help students go deeper, to figure out what trust actually means to them and what it might mean to a teammate.

It’s not just going down the path of least resistance. We want students to be intentional about their approach to leadership. Sometimes people are just on different pages and it’s not enough to say, “This is how I am, deal with it.” That’s just not how effective leadership works.

Q: But aren’t there times when someone has to make a decision to say, “We’re doing it this way because that’s the way I want to do it”?

Yes, and that comes from building trust. It’s not personal; it’s: “I’m the chancellor. I can’t do something I’m not comfortable with even if everyone else is. We’ve debated this and I’m going to decide now. That comes with my role.”

There are moments when someone has to be the leader and the rest of the team has to understand it’s not personal. And it’s up to us as leaders to build effective, support teams so that in those moments of decision urgency, there’s trust and alignment and knowing that we’re in this together.”