My MBA provided a foundation that, I believe, has allowed me to more effectively tackle challenges in my professional career and beyond. I value, and often refer back to, the lessons and strategies developed within my program at Rutgers. Is it what completely formed me into the professional I am today? …No. But without it, I’d be less informed, less prepared and certainly less savvy.
A Forbes opinion piece, found here, argues that MBA programs “don’t produce leaders” (even though these programs may claim that they do). I feel as though the author is sort of missing the point of an MBA, however, and in fact they can and do help create better leaders:
Soft skills make the leader…
Henry Mintzberg’s criticisms of MBA programs are used as a basis for the piece. One of his main points is that soft skills are what make a leader, so that adjectives like “experience, intuition, judgment and wisdom” are common descriptions of effective leaders. Couldn’t agree more, but then again traits such as being wise and having good judgment must flow from a core set of information and thinking constructs. These are constructs that, I believe, MBA programs can and do provide. The individual then takes this core knowledge and these analytical approaches and must effectively apply them to the “messy stuff –the intractable problems, the complicated connections (See Mintzberg quote in Forbes article)”.
An MBA program is not teaching you personally how to be confident, persevere or how to motivate others effectively. But from a soft skill standpoint it introduces these concepts and shows how they can impact success. And from a hard skill standpoint MBA schools can arm you with the ability to effectively identify and analyze important business forces and factors.
In most of my MBA courses, there was no right answer. We first learned about the core concepts: ‘market fundamentals’, ‘economic factors’ or ‘accounting practices’. We were then presented with hurdles and problems for which we were given the opportunity to formulate our own strategies in order to tackle them. And guess what? …I was suddenly more aware of business forces and factors, became a better strategist and was able to “think like a manager” (as well as work with my project team members as a pseudo-leader). And when I started formulating strategies and tackling challenges in my professional career using the approaches learned in my MBA courses, I suddenly became a real-life leader (of my department and eventually my business unit).
For MBA programs, striking the right balance of academic or scientific approaches vs. teaching the soft skills needed to effectively assess and successfully apply these approaches is a monumental challenge. To the author’s point, a lot of soft skills must be learned through experiences and real-life challenges (see a related blog post here). But to me, it’s not the job of MBA programs to manufacture leaders. MBA programs should educate students on the effective tools and strategies used for management and leadership; MBA graduates who best utilize these tools and strategies can then grow into true leaders.