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Lessons in Empathetic Leadership – Rebecca Lang, MIT Sloan School of Management

I knew I wanted to launch a career in workforce development when I came to MIT Sloan, but I didn’t know how to start. But after attending a webinar for the REDF Farber Summer Fellowship, I knew I found the right place for me to learn and grow.

Before business school, I worked in finance for five years and wanted to round out my business skills by working on a project related to strategy or operations. I also wanted to learn more about the criminal justice system after having supported a startup staffing company for people who were formerly incarcerated during my second semester at Sloan. After accepting my offer to join the Farber cohort, I had a chat with the program’s leader and expressed my interests and ended up with a project that was a great fit for me.

For the 10-week internship, I worked with Clean Decisions, a janitorial, landscaping, and event staffing business based in DC that is owned, operated, and staffed by returning citizens. There, I worked with the CEO, Director of Operations, and an Advisor to strengthen their business development and operational discipline. Together, we identified contracting opportunities that would grow the business and allow Clean Decisions to accomplish its mission of serving a greater number of returning citizens in DC, and improve efficiency in certain areas of their business, including customer service and setting expectations among employees.

Because I was new to the world of business development and operations, I leaned on REDF’s network of staff, employment social enterprises, and other Farbers to learn from their expertise and experience in the field. I was truly blown away by how receptive everyone was to helping me tackle questions I had about my project. I conducted interviews with leaders of employment social enterprises that were in REDF’s previous and current grantee portfolios, which opened my eyes to the different strategies that social enterprises use to grow their revenue and impact. I also looked forward to my weekly calls with my REDF Relationship Manager, who consistently bounced ideas off of me and inspired me to explore new directions with my project.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my amazing group of fellow Farbers! Despite having a virtual internship, we were able to bond as a cohort and I always looked forward to our weekly Zoom happy hours. We were even able to successfully execute a prank on Brian, our fearless Farber leader, from many miles away.

My Farber summer went by way too quickly, but as I start my second year of business school, I know I will take many learnings back with me. Yes, I accomplished my goals of learning about workforce development, strategy, and operations, and supporting returning citizens, but I also learned a lot about what it means to be an empathetic leader, which I think is very unique as part of an MBA internship. Will, the CEO of Clean Decisions, was a great example of showing integrity in your work and treating the people you work with as much more than employees or colleagues. I saw this firsthand when I went to visit DC for a week in June. The Clean Decisions team hosted one of their monthly pancake breakfast events for the employees, alumni of the program, and advisors. I showed up early and helped the team prep for the meal, and as we sat around eating, telling stories, and getting to know each other, I looked around and soaked in the family-like atmosphere that Clean Decisions was known for and proud of. The Clean Decisions team is a family, and I’m so grateful they took me in to be a part of that family.

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