School News

Getting Comfortable With the Uncomfortable: Natalie Ashbridge (MBA ’21) Details Her Experience With NYU Stern Leadership Accelerator’s Innovative First Live Case

This Spring, NYU Stern’s Leadership Accelerator debuted its first live case, an emerging educational form Stern is trailblazing to hone full-time MBA students’ leadership agility and skills. Inspired by Stern MBA and veteran Natalie Ashbridge (MBA ’21) and her military experience in dealing with crises, the Leadership Accelerator team, including Professor Nathan Pettit, the initiative’s Director; Hannah Levinson, Associate Director; and Gisselle Lankenau, Program Coordinator; wrote and designed this first for Stern with Natalie. The School-wide effort involved more than 40 actors, including Stern alumni and administrators, as well as acting students from NYU Steinhardt’s applied theater program, plus a collaboration with executive search firm Spencer Stuart. 

During the live case, teams of first-year MBAs spent seven full hours living a high-touch leadership experience like no other. Every decision, both large and small, mattered for each team and determined their respective next steps along the journey. What took place felt real, unexpected and at times, uncomfortable. That was the goal, given the types of actual experiences students will face as managers and leaders in their professional lives. In the end, students received invaluable, personalized feedback from coaches on how they rose to the challenge and key takeaways, such as learning firsthand how perfection can be the enemy of the good.  

Natalie shares her experience in helping to design and implement this Stern first: 
Graphic of Natalie Ashbridge headshot and pull quote
"I wanted to build something three-dimensional  —  more than a classroom case discussion  —  to get students comfortable with being uncomfortable." Natalie Ashbridge (MBA ’21)

In the Marine Corps, messing up isn’t an option. It is not a place where you can learn on the job. You owe it to people to do your job well. This is why building muscle memory during training and learning to mitigate risk ahead of time is so critical. “Train like you fight and fight like you train.” That’s the motto.

My experience training in the Marine Corps has formed my view of leadership development. I learned the most by doing — by making mistakes in a training environment and facing the consequences before I faced them in the real world. When I did face situations outside of training, I knew how to respond appropriately. 

Business school is also a low-stakes environment where students can develop experientially as leaders. I wanted to build something at Stern that would set the conditions for students to make decisions and live with the ramifications of those decisions. I wanted to build something three-dimensional  — more than a classroom case discussion  — to get students comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I had a general storyline in mind when I approached Stern’s Leadership Accelerator. I wanted to make it as realistic as possible in terms of the management dynamics students would encounter post-MBA and the types of personalities students would work with. We decided to center the experience around a product launch, a green juice called the Green Meanie, given that students will likely encounter a launch in some form in their career. 

And, with ten months of careful planning (in a virtual environment!), I saw a vision come to life. On April 9th, students were no longer Stern MBAs. They were the executive management team of Deja Brew, a coffee company founded by a Stern alum. The company was in the midst of an expansion  —  at an inflection point with its management team. Throughout the day, they presented to and received feedback from a board of directors, were observed by a coach, and encountered surprises that will only be revealed to those who participate. Experiencing the live case was my most rewarding experience at Stern, and I look forward to iterating on it and seeing it come to life again.