12 Aug 2020 21:08 IST

Organisations are turning to B-schools for leadership training

B-schools identify and tap into talents at an early stage through structured courses and digital skills

The lack of leadership talent has been a key concern across industries and beyond geographies. In the words of Jack Welch, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."

While the ranks of executors and managers are adequately staffed with superior talent, the top of the corporate pyramid lacks visionaries. Where is the next Jack Welch? The next Bill Gates? The next Steve Jobs? The next Lee Iacocca? The next Sam Walton? Or closer home, the next JRD Tata? The next Aditya Birla?

Creating leadership talent is not easy, given just how vast a capable leader’s toolkit is. A leader is a fine combination of people skills, strategy, technical competence, vision, commercial sense, and selling ability. No wonder that the business world is suffering from a dearth of leaders just when they are needed the most in volatile times.

The majority of millennials, the leaders of tomorrow, agree that their leadership skills are underdeveloped. Organisations thus have to invest heavily in leadership development of their workforce which has huge cost implications. To develop tomorrow’s leaders, enter B-schools as a training ground. Think of it this way — from the industry’s perspective, if they could hire competent business managers from B-schools who have the right seeds of leadership already planted then it would reduce time, cost, and effort down the road when it is time to select CXOs.

This clarion call from industry has led to B-schools sharpening their curriculum and pedagogy to include specific and proven techniques for identifying and nurturing leadership talent on the one hand and helping others who are lacking in leadership potential to develop it. The emphasis is based on the belief that leadership is better learned when experienced than when explained.

Here are some of the initiatives seen in select B-schools:

Structured courses on leadership

Many B-schools offer personalised and intensive structured programmes on leadership for students. These courses help students assess their strengths and weaknesses as a leader, learn different leadership styles, provide them with opportunities and challenges to develop their leadership capabilities. This is aided by lessons from history and real-life case studies.

Emphasis on experiential learning

B-schools are making continuous efforts to re-design their curriculum in a way that enables students to apply academic knowledge into practice through internships, case studies, industry projects, teams, and mock interviews to provide a reflection of real-life situations. Practical exposure involves challenging situations, which helps students to think critically and find creative solutions thus strengthening their decision-making skills. The objective is to push students out of their comfort zones — after all, leaders have always defied comfort zones.

Integrating entrepreneurship skills into the curriculum

Not every management student wants to pursue a corporate career. Many of them choose a management programme to polish their entrepreneurial capabilities, which also emphasises the significance of leadership qualities. Of course, the first gateway to successful entrepreneurship is effective leadership and team building. Realising this, many b-schools have come forward with incubators, innovation labs, accelerators, and also organise 'start-up pitch' competitions which help students explore and refine their entrepreneurial skills. Some are also offering dedicated programmes in entrepreneurial leadership development.

Emphasis on technology and digital skills

Digital technology is reshaping the industry and hence, the leadership style. Business leaders are now required to possess digital and technical competence to grow the business and take decisions that align with the evolving trends. Business schools are taking measures to bridge the techno-functional leadership gap to make students ready for an ever-evolving business landscape disrupted by technological trends.

Formal and direct early interventions

The focus on leadership development programmes that begin with an early assessment of present state, goals, and key gaps have also had a huge impact. All of this is formally documented with the help of leadership coaches. Regular interventions and updates occur throughout the one to two years at B-schools to gauge the progress, and an end-of-programme assessment is undertaken, which helps the student to map their progress as well as constantly improvise the formulated development programmes.

The gap in leadership talent is not something that can be plugged in the short term. However, a beginning has been made in nurturing talent at an early stage in the cradle of business education.

(The writer is Director, FORE School of Management, New Delhi.)