From Plato and Plutarch to Ma and Musk, there are many different models for what makes a good leader. After all, the characteristics of great leadership change with the times—what worked for Napoleon Bonaparte in battle might not work for Jeff Bezos in the boardroom.
According to Michael Dickmann, professor of international human resource management at Cranfield School of Management, the 21st century is a particularly challenging time for leaders, due to the rapid changes that we are seeing in every area of our lives—from the political, to the technological, to the environmental.
“It means that leaders need to be really clued up in order to identify the opportunities that new technology is making available, and to seize those and exploit them,” Michael says.
“Leaders need to be pragmatic, motivational, and focused, creating agile organizations that can react to that changing context.”
This is easier said than done, but Michael believes that with the right tools, graduates stand a good chance of mastering agile leadership. This is precisely what Cranfield’s new Master’s in Management and Leadership (MML), created in partnership with Grant Thornton, seeks to deliver.
Understanding the self
Michael says that the path to this skillset begins, for any leader, with a thorough understanding of the self, one’s preferences, and one’s ability to work with and impact others in a changing environment.
“You really need to identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and how you can maximize those to be effective long-term,” he says. “This requires continuous insight and continuous learning.”
But how can that be delivered in a two-year, part-time masters program?
It starts with building a solid foundation of so-called ‘soft’ skills.
When the first cohort arrives at Cranfield School of Management in spring 2019, their teaching will kick off with organizational behavior and leadership training, using psychometric instruments to help people understand themselves better, what their role is within a team, and how they can influence others.
“We enable them to understand themselves, but we also use these tools so that they can reflect on these insights, understand others better, and master a large range of leadership challenges,” says Michael. The key is to not deliver just a one-off lesson, but to teach an ongoing practice.
Peer-to-peer learning opportunities
This kind of managerial self-awareness is also encouraged through peer coaching. Students pair up at the beginning of the program and, alongside professional coaches from Grant Thornton, help each other to master the leadership challenges they encounter on the course.
“These are organizational behavior leadership processes,” Michael points out, “but the teaching also accommodates the changing business context.
“We have courses on disruptive innovation and management consultancy, where people will work on the current challenges facing organizations and present solutions to those.”
The school are also trying to integrate subjects with one another, for instance by teaching a course on strategy, marketing, and operations.
By studying these topics in conjunction with one another, Michael believes that students can better understand the challenges presented to businesses and their stakeholders, allowing them to lead with more certainty, even in uncertain contexts.
Proximity to industry
But the activating energy behind this academic learning lies in the course’s closeness to real industry insight.
All of Cranfield’s courses are continuously evaluated through practical advisory boards to keep them relevant to current industry challenges, and the MML is a particularly potent example, having been developed in partnership with experts at Grant Thornton.
As well as receiving mentorship from Grant Thornton’s coaches, students on the MML also get to take some of their lessons at Grant Thornton’s offices in London.
This ear to the ground on issues currently affecting the market is what Grant Thornton believe makes the course, and Cranfield School of Management, an ideal forum for students to develop their leadership skills.
“The MSc is grounded in real-world insight and taught by leading academic experts,” a representative from the firm says. “We have listened to the market and, based on our insight into what makes truly great leaders, have developed a curriculum that responds to the needs of modern dynamic organizations.
“This partnership combines academic insight and commercial application, to help develop impactful leaders of the future.”