With corporate talent recruiters focusing on leadership, soft skills, and emotional intelligence for managerial positions rather than just mastery of business knowledge, business schools have become quite creative in taking MBA participants to the full potential of their personality. What can you expect and are you ready to plunge into self-discovery during your MBA studies?
The MBA provides a healthy balance in teaching both hard and soft skills. Apart from the traditional teaching methods such as lectures, class discussions, group projects, and case studies, these skills are developed by various forms of experiential learning and simulations. B-schools have adopted creative approaches to building the soft skills and leadership potential of their MBA students. MBA programmes are invaluable for their action-based learning experiences for self-awareness, personal development, and leadership growth. These forms of untraditional but transformational learning are centred on direct action and experience. Placing students under authentic levels of stress and uncertainty forces participants to step out of their comfort zone and exceed their personal limitations, stimulates quick thinking and smart decisions, highlights team roles, and reveals authentic leadership.
Personal, leadership, and career coaching
Personal, leadership, and career development coaching is becoming a standard element of MBA programmes around the world. “The IMD MBA programme develops technical competence, self-awareness, and moral judgement. We offer real-life, solid education recognised for its direct applicability and impact,” highlights the IMD Business School (Switzerland) Dean of MBA Programme Ralf Boscheck. This business school offers a really comprehensive set of services combining classroom and off-campus interactions. MBA participants’ self-discovery comprises psychoanalytical coaching, peer reviews, and individual reflection and this enables them to improve their skills to navigate organisational contexts, explore leadership issues surrounding group performance, and understand how their own moral compass impacts decisions. In addition, the Career Stream of the IMD MBA provides coaching on personal development goals, career planning, and recruitment strategies.
Business schools have differing approaches for leadership development and this part of the MBA learning experience is worthwhile exploring on its own, in addition to the curriculum, as it can make all the difference during your MBA studies.
Ethics and philosophy
With regard to adjusting the moral compass of business leaders, business schools challenge their participants to look at business from very different perspectives. For 12 years, EDHEC Business School (France) has offered courses in philosophy for its MBA participants. “The initial idea was to give a ‘humanistic’ dimension to the MBA, alongside very down-to-earth courses on formulating a strategy or analysing a balance sheet,” said Michelle Sisto, director of the school’s Global MBA in 2017 for Le Monde. Beyond the classes devoted to philosophy, EDHEC professors integrate ethics into their courses. This has the effect of enabling debates to arise, such as in an accounting session during a financial scandal that raises questions about transparency and accountability. “In our ultra-connected society, it is a luxury to take the time to ask fundamental questions,” insists Ms Sisto, who aspires to “give senior managers this habit of reflection.”
As worthwhile as it is, taking the time to reflect can really be a luxury with the pressing timelines and quick, smart decisions that are the daily routine of business leaders. Practising in a controlled and safe environment is a unique opportunity to find your true limits and authentic style.
Empower yourself with your authentic style
The MBA programme of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (US) provides Leadership Ventures – outdoor experiential leadership development opportunities. This module consists of highly immersive, hands-on experiences for exploring and mastering your capabilities for effective individual and team leadership in business and beyond. In the 2016/2017 academic year, MBA students at Wharton could choose among a full spectrum: mountaineering, trekking and rafting, and mountain biking and rock climbing in Chile; a canyoneering experience in Canyonlands, Utah in the US; sailing, backpacking, mountain biking, rafting, and kayaking in New Zealand; and even trekking in Antarctica. The B-school also offers two intensives – a Fire Department simulation in New York City, and a military simulation in Quantico (US).
In B-schools across Europe, experiential learning of leadership growth through various off-campus activities is also common practice. HEC Paris (France) holds regular leadership classes and one of the most innovative is a two-day seminar with the French Army. The seminar has been so successful that it is now compulsory for both Full-time and Part-time MBA students. They are taken for a two-day off-campus activity at the Saint-Cyr Military Academy. Through various field exercises such as leading a group of people across a river, participants put their decision-making and leadership skills to the test.
In another part of Europe, MBA students of the Cass Business School (UK) faced an exhausting physical challenge climbing one of Iceland’s most spectacular glaciers, Mt Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010, covering Europe with clouds of dust and bringing the continent to a standstill. “Resilience, determination, collaboration, and personal leadership are sought-after qualities in MBA graduates,” says Dr Sionade Robinson, Associate Dean. “Students needed to be physically and psychologically prepared for this activity. The Cass MBA Leadership Expedition was designed to challenge them – half of the climb was on the glacier and required special glacier safety measures and equipment.” Mr Robinson explains participants have shared that they have benefited both personally and professionally from this exciting, challenging, and exclusive leadership development experience, and gained insights into the importance of timing, decision making, and leadership skills.
In Denmark, through a Leadership Development Process, the Copenhagen Business School provides its Full-time MBA students with the opportunity to develop self-awareness, empathy, and an in-depth understanding of themselves, learn their true leadership style, and appreciate the differences in others while enhancing their ability to create and lead diverse teams.
The focal point of the Leadership Development Process is a multi-day leadership simulation, conducted in the wilderness of southern Sweden. Through a series of outdoor activities students take turns to perform as a leader, while receiving feedback from peers and coaches on how to perform in subjects ranging from teamwork and communication to interpersonal and leadership skills. This helps every participant to create their own frameworks and models on leadership based on practice and reflection. “I was out of my comfort zone and close to my limits several times during the experience, which definitely presented me with some of my biggest fears and strongholds. The class was essential for the success of the experience, as group feedback was a key part of all the processes,” says Gabriel Bachmann, MBA 2015 class of the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, in a posting to the school’s blog.
As an alternative to extreme outdoor adventures, MBA participants can be challenged for self-discovery by more artistic exercises such as dance, painting, or even meditation. Theatre workshops develop public speaking potential, negotiating skills, and the channelling of emotions. “We remain on the professional field,” shares Jacques Digout, professor in Digital Marketing at Toulouse Business School for Le Monde. “The aim is to see how these techniques can be used for educating managers to take distance and manage stress.”
Indeed, MBA programmes are truly challenging on multiple levels, but the good news is that you can choose the transformational approach that suits you best. What Mr Bachmann shares holds true for many and probably for you too: “It helped me discover my personal leadership style and to understand that it is a process of continuous discovery, which will likely be ongoing for the rest of my professional life.”
This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2017-2018 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “ The Power of Being Authentic”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.