Leadership development and the MBA

March 14, 2018 by Wally Bock

Leadership development, at the root, is helping aspiring leaders become effective leaders. MBA programs purport to teach essential business skills. In theory, the two should work together synergistically. But there are signs that isn’t the case.

The MBA has become the most popular graduate degree in the U. S. It may be the most valuable master’s degree in terms of earning power. But if your challenge is developing aspiring leaders into effective leaders, those concerns are mostly irrelevant.

Leadership development is mostly about people skills

Leaders need people skills and the higher a leader rises on the org chart, the more important those skills become. The catch is that you can’t learn those skills in a classroom. The only way to learn them is by doing, like riding a bike. MBA programs really can’t help much.

Leadership development should encourage the most effective learning

Classroom work is great for introducing the basic concepts of accounting and marketing and planning and other subjects. The catch is that the longer the gap between the classroom and application, the less effective the learning is likely to be.

The most effective way to master leadership skills is through some form of trial and feedback. Corporate programs can provide that through peer support, mentoring, and coaching. Micro-learning resources can help.

Leadership development and the MBA in the future

It’s time to form more productive partnerships between universities and their programs and leadership development programs and their needs. Here are some ideas.

Core concepts don’t require sitting in a classroom. Let’s do more of that instruction with distance learning.

Basic human problems in business don’t vary much from company to company and industry to industry. Leaders with similar problems could link up virtually in facilitated peer support groups. Universities could provide mini-lectures, materials, and facilitation.

Leadership development challenges unfold over the course of a career. Business schools can provide courses about the challenges of different leadership levels.

Executive MBA programs are powerful learning opportunities for experienced leaders. Companies can make attaining an executive MBA a key career step.

Those are a few ideas. What do you think?


HBR Ideacast: The Future of MBA Education

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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