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An Answer to Everything

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James Lonergan, Fellowship Class of 2016

Business school applications and interviews were no joke, but I felt confident going through the process— El Pomar has provided me with experiences to answer just about anything that comes my way. While not all of my answers describe successful adventures, each one relates a meaningful learning experience and makes for a great story.

In response to the question “Have you ever been in a leadership position and had to adapt?” I could tell the story of leading a team that brought seven political leaders from the Palestinian Territories, Morocco, and Tunisia to an event at the Air Force Academy. Unfortunately, because our point of contact had not checked a box to allow us on base before 8:00am, each of our three cars ended up stuck at a different Academy checkpoint while a Four Star General and El Pomar Trustee waited for us inside. On top of everything, the politicians from the Palestinian Territories were growing increasingly anxious due to their experiences with security checkpoints back home.  So, yes, I can say confidently that I have been in a leadership position and had to adapt. I am proud to say that we did find a way to adjust and eventually received a military escort into the Academy.

Another example: “Have you ever received feedback?” Well… locking a set of golf clubs in the closet just as the CEO asked for them to be brought on stage in front of 200 people was not a shining moment. That definitely led to some direct feedback. Add in annual performance reviews, programmatic performance reviews, monthly check-ins with my direct supervisor, a feedback 360 assessment (where everyone you have worked with identifies via questionnaire your strengths and weaknesses in leadership), and yes, I have received ample amounts of feedback over the past two years. In fact, this is now my favorite question to answer. Consistent feedback aimed at your personal growth is a gift, and these opportunities were one of the most valuable parts of my Fellowship.

Failures, feedback, and growth are always interesting to talk about because the stories are fun and demonstrate lessons learned, but the easiest question for me to answer now is actually “Tell me about a successful leadership experience.” Thanks to the opportunities at El Pomar, at a young age I have already had a number of successful experiences and accomplishments. For instance, I conducted the research and preparation necessary for the foundation to grant $400,000 toward mental health initiatives in rural schools. Another example is that after presenting to CEO’s and packed auditoriums, public speaking is now much less nerve-racking and something I could claim as a point of separation from other business school applicants. Because El Pomar works hard to help Fellows succeed, stories of success happily outnumber those like the locked-golf-club incident of 2016.

So as I went through the demanding interview process, I was very thankful for my time at El Pomar, which gave me opportunity after opportunity and ultimately helped prepare me to answer the many questions ahead.