These days, time seems to go by so quickly that if we want to keep pace with it, we should strive to anticipate the changes. This is especially true when we talk about MBA education. When considering your choice of MBA programmes, you will make sure it will be the right fit for you, but also that it will provide you with a set of competences and skills that will keep you abreast of modern business trends.
A paradox or a standard
The leading trend, which everyone should keep in mind, is the contemporary business paradox: the more technologies permeate our daily lives and business, the more valued inherent human qualities like emotion, creativity, and communication skills become. Therefore, the business leaders of the future are expected to combine, in this paradoxical way, technological competences and skills with a purely human approach – to engage, motivate, and inspire. How do business schools enable executives to stay abreast of the latest trends?
“Nowadays there isn’t a single industry that is not affected by the rise of digital technologies and there isn’t an economical sector that will be spared in the approximate future. But what business leaders need to understand is that a successful approach towards a digital transformation should be systematic and well-justified from a business perspective. This transformation does not affect only the IT departments in a company”, said Albert Meige, academic director of the “Digital Transformation” major of the EMBA programme at HEC Paris Business School (France), to Advent Group. These days, managers and business strategists not only need to adopt technologies to guarantee swiftness and efficiency, but should also be able to anticipate how technologies will change their respective industry. That is confirmed by Grace Zata, executive director of IRC Institute. In her opinion, many top managers lack in-depth understanding of the technological revolution and its implications and that hampers their capacity to take strategic decisions for business development in Economy 4.0.
What does all that entail for managers who are considering MBA studies? What kind of knowledge should they focus on in order to gain a better understanding of the digital transformation and be able to manage their companies with more confidence in this environment? Normally, general management level does not suggest comprehensive expertise in particular fields. Still, it is mandatory for managers to have competences across the full spectrum of top management disciplines like finance, human resources, strategic planning, etc. so they are capable of taking strategic decisions based on the advice of experts in each one of these spheres. These disciplines make up the core of each international MBA programme.
MBA programmes approach the digitalisation skill set and mindset for managers in a variety of ways. It is increasingly common nowadays that primary academic and practical education goes hand in hand with additional elective courses of specialisations like Big Data, Cyber Security, Machine Learning, AI, FinTech, IT, Data Science and Decision-making, Digital Transformation, and Management in Economy 4.0. Each MBA student makes their own choice about what to prioritise and the amount of technological training to include, depending on their specific career needs, business sector, visionary approach, and their personal comfort zone on the scale of “human-technology”.
Against a backdrop of fears and hopes, discussions, and inspirational messages about the future coexistence of humanity with digital technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), and robots, the topic that stands out is the increasing expectation that managers should possess outstanding human qualities. Just like when ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes was looking for an Honest Man, nowadays the soft qualities like emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to motivate and engage, creativity, innovation, and interpersonal communication continue to be the most valued traits in management and business leadership.
The reasons for this can be found in the ever changing dynamics of the workplace globally. Never before have so many different generations co-existed in the same workplace. Never before has there been there such variety in labour relations. Nowadays, managers should be able to value and engage in equal amounts the energy of the young and daring technocrats, and the experience and wisdom of those who are halfway or beyond in their careers. The global ageing of the population and the shortage of qualified personnel often call for new strategies like in-house training and importing the labour force. This is where technologies come in by making possible working from a distance in teams scattered sometimes across the globe, as well as more flexible employment relations than a fixed labour contract. Those are the things that make the working environment of a modern manager a varied, multi-styled, multi-cultured and multi-dimensional place which requires creativity, an unconventional approach, and soft management skills.
Another driving factor behind the changes is the pressure from generation Y (people born in the 1980s or early 1990s). Part of this generation have already made their way to management level in the corporate world, others have put their energy into accomplishing their own business ideas. Workplace futurist Karie Willyerd wrote in Harvard Business Review that millennials “…want a road map to success, and they expect their companies to provide it.” Way back in 2013 a Google internal review, called Project Oxygen, revealed that the most valued quality in managers is the ability to coach the progress of their employees. Even though motivational speaker and organisational consultant Simon Sinek argues that this expectation is the result of the “parents’ mistake” and misguided upbringing of the millennials, this expectation is out there and cannot be changed. How to approach it is a matter of talent, principles, and possibilities, but undoubtedly this is one of the main responsibilities of today’s managers. Another characteristic of this generation is the quest for a deeper meaning and a noble cause behind any business undertaking. This creates expectations that business leaders will commit to particular causes which will unleash the energy of young employees, as well as communicate these causes in the most effective way.
In this complex environment, active learning is becoming a strength that equips business leaders with the needed stability and clear vision into the future. Thus, a focus on developing personal qualities in everyone aspiring to become a true business leader becomes a full circle.
Managers’ coaching skills are in high demand, yet in short supply as confirmed by a 2017 Financial Times survey. Highly transformational MBA programmes live up to the challenge. Business schools guide executives to self-awareness and leadership growth. Their methods and approaches are quite diverse -- from consulting for personal development to immersing MBA participants in extreme circumstances to bring out their full leadership potential. Even though most MBA courses focus on the personal development of the managers themselves and not so much on coaching their own employees, igniting them into the mode of mindfulness is a really gigantic step.
We are all living the change. Education is about change, about positive change. Whatever method of self-improvement mindful leaders choose, it will enable them to make an impact beyond the horizon. Never stop exploring and learning. That is what the world praises today and hopefully will do so for generations to come.
This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2019-2020 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “The Age of Mindfulness”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.