07 Feb 2019 19:18 IST

Will your MBA help you become a leader?

Careers are no longer linear; there is no ladder to climb, it’s now a jungle gym

The Harvard Business Review recently published its rankings for the world’s best-performing CEOs of 2018. Out of the top 10, only one is an MBA graduate and of the top 20, only four have received MBAs. There’s no causation or association, articulated or implied. Let’s just look at this as an interesting factoid that could provoke us to reflect. Does an MBA prepare us for leadership? What is missing? What can we work on that will complement our management preparation, to help improve our leadership skills?

IQ vs EQ

Our intelligence quotient versus our emotional quotient. A study conducted by Jombay, a talent assessment and analytics platform, on the preparedness of MBA students in India, had some startling insights. The study covered over 2,500 students across more than 80 B-schools, including Tier I and Tier II colleges. It noted that in Tier I colleges, 55 per cent students score lower than industry expectations on emotional control. Students in Tier II colleges fell short on emotional control, stress tolerance and foresight by 63 per cent, 55 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. Also, at least 50 per cent students scored lower than industry standards on understanding people and helpfulness. These are huge yellow lights. They point to a lack in qualities that leaders need, even more so in today’s globally-connected workplace.

Take emotional control. Leaders who fly off the handle at the slightest provocation or take decisions impulsively based on how they are feeling about a problem or opportunity put their teams and the business at risk. It is good to start cultivating emotional control in your MBA days. When there is an emotional stimulus, can you make a habit of inserting a synaptic space to pause and consider before you act? Are you aware enough to recognise your emotions and then learn to handle and harness them?

Stress tolerance is another area that you should get better at. The problem here begins with how we define stress. At what level in our academics, in organising a fest, in our placement process, do we start to get stressed? Can we learn to identify what gets us stressed and learn to deal with it maturely. This will save us from many poor decisions in the future.

The problems and opportunities of tomorrow require you to have an emotional connect and not just the smarts. A story is told of Russi Mody, the erstwhile chairman of Tata Steel, facing complaints from workers, on how their toilets were dirty and badly maintained while the executives’ toilets received preferential treatment and were cleaner. When an executive was asked how long it would take to fix the problem, he asked for a month. Modi asked for the boards on the toilets to be swapped — executives would now use the workers’ toilet and vice versa. The cleanliness of both toilets were on par within three days! That wasn’t an IQ solution — it was an EQ solution.

KQ vs LQ

Our knowledge quotient versus our learnability quotient. An MBA helps us learn, but what your teams and organisations will need from you is learnability — the ability to unlearn, learn and relearn. We sometimes overrate knowledge. During your MBA days, it will serve you well to practice learnability. For example, just sitting in a different place every day at class forces a different physical view that may encourage better listening and an appreciation of different perspectives. Can you hang out with folks outside our usual circle? Can you practice taking a different route to college or even the classroom? Can you occasionally pick up a book entirely outside your sphere of interest or expertise? Can you try a different sport from the one you’re more proficient at?

MBA courses do a great job of testing for knowledge. You need to create your own mechanisms for testing your learnability. The requirement today is to own and drive your own learning. Nano-degrees are the norm, as more people seek to pick up skills through online courses and universities. Companies are no longer going to hand-hold the learning process. The formal will give way to the more informal, most often led by employees.

Part of learnability is the willingness to be a beginner again and again. It requires you to surrender the cloak of the expert. This requires you to be secure about yourself, practice intellectual honesty and be open-minded.

PQ vs AQ

Our process quotient versus our adaptability/agility quotient. Einstein talked about imagination being more important than knowledge. Often, knowledge leads to an adherence to past paths. Imagination triggers the adaptability and agility that tomorrow’s leaders need. MBAs who lack this imagination end up being managers rather than leaders.

A HBR article made the case: agile teams ‘place more value on adapting to change than on sticking to a plan and they hold themselves accountable for outcomes (such as growth, profitability and customer loyalty) not outputs (such as lines of code or number of new products).’

MBA courses are known to encourage students to discuss case studies or debate them. How many courses require them to write case studies? That taps the imagination and nurtures adaptability. You need to develop a multi-disciplinary approach and mindset. As marketing students, are you willing to learn a bit more about human resources? As information management students, are you willing to delve into the intricacies of finance management?

MBA courses teach us the rules, the principles, the processes. Tomorrow’s work world will need you to create new ones, not just blindly follow outdated ones.

Google and Apple are joining an increasing list of companies that no longer require a college degree from prospective employees. This is not so much to announce the death of formal learning, but urge people to look at the skills and values that really matter. As MBA students it’s important you learn to develop the quotients that will enable you to lead.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote about a colleague, Lori Goler, who said that there’s a new metaphor for careers — it’s no longer a ladder, it’s a jungle gym. We’ve got to go beyond climbing, we have to learn to jump.

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