“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Most MBA programs promote themselves as helping you become a leader. Phrases such as “Building tomorrow’s leaders” or “Global leadership for today” or other such tag lines are meant to convey the message that our program is about building leaders. My school, Kenan-Flagler Business School, has a similar tag line, Shaping Leaders & Driving Results.® How do you measure such claims though?
When evaluating business schools, how do you know if the program will indeed shape you into a leader? Certainly increasing your knowledge base, enhancing your network of business professionals, and adding comma MBA behind your name are all measureable benefits of a graduate business program. But those benefits don’t automatically equate to leadership ability.
Self-awareness is considered a key attribute of effective leaders. Determining whether an MBA program better enables you to understand yourself, from your personality to your strengths and weaknesses, is a way to see if that MBA program will help make you a more effective leader.
One surprising aspect of my first module in an EMBA program has been the importance my business school places on self-awareness. This self-awareness is not about navel-gazing, but about understanding who you are at your core. Eight months into my EMBA program and so far I’ve taken a 360 Survey (a comprehensive evaluation of your leadership skills by your colleagues at work (direct reports, peers, and superiors)), along with two other personality assessments. In addition, I’ve been personally evaluated by my MBA colleagues no less than 5 times for the various projects that we’ve worked on together.
By the time I graduate, I will have received personal feedback from my colleagues (both global and domestic colleagues) at least ten times, feedback that is a critique of my contributions and effectiveness as a member of teams working on difficult and long projects. In addition, a few months ago when our EMBA cohort met in person, we had a closed door meeting with the members of our local team (see my previous blog for a description of my local team) where we had to provide both positive and constructive feedback to each of the members regarding their involvement and work with the local team.
With all of the feedback and assessing going on, you get a reality check of the way people actually view you versus how you think they view you. After reading the results of the 360 Survey and seeing how my work colleagues ranked me in various qualities, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s what my wife’s told me before!” A quick shout-out here to my wife, Wendy, who didn’t need me to take a 360 Survey to provide me helpful tips for my professional development.
Not all business schools make feedback a priority, nor do they offer you the tools to help you evaluate yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. Schools claim to shape leaders, but often offer only book learning to help with that. Leadership skills are honed best in practice and not in theory, in difficult projects where you have to lead and organize your global team and then sit back and read their written assessments of your performance.
Lee Lowder is an attorney who is pursuing his MBA at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler’s Business School. HIs previous posts: