Many MBAs have gone on to become the world’s most influential business leaders — think Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase or Tim Cook at Apple.
An MBA isn’t a ticket to C-suite, but it sure can help in honing your leadership skills.
ESADE Business School in Barcelona is a trailblazer in leadership development. It runs a highly-regarded Leadership Development Program for executives, and the concepts of leadership are further imbued throughout its full-time MBA, ranked in the top-25 globally by the FT.
Leadership skills are increasingly sought-after by top MBA employers like McKinsey, Bain & Co and Amazon.
And the concept is further rising up the corporate agenda, as companies have recently come under fire for failure to put in place adequate succession planning, and investor activism continues to be rife.
Below, Ricard Serlavós, professor of the Department of People Management and Organization at ESADE, explains why the school is putting leadership at the core of its management programs.
Is there a common misconception of what leadership is and how to define it?
The problem is not a misconception but the fact that leadership is a complex phenomenon that can be analysed and defined from different perspectives. For example, we can conceive leadership as a form of relationship and influence — an influence exerted by the leader on the followers, or a reciprocal influence.
What are the key traits of a modern business leader — such as inclusiveness and adaptation?
Resilience, integrity, engagement and being open to new ideas.
Do business schools face challenges in teaching 'leadership', which is unique to individuals?
I partially agree with those who claim that leadership cannot be taught, although it can be learned. So the biggest challenges are creating the appropriate conditions to expose students to different kinds of leadership situations and making them aware of the contingent nature of leadership, which means that it’s not only unique to individuals but also dependent on the context and on their own inner convictions.
Is leadership something employers increasing want from your students?
Yes. They want MBAs to have the capacity to lead themselves, to build a strong personal vision, and to be prepared to work hard to accomplish it.
Succession planning is a hot topic, with calls to place planning at mid-management level. What damage can be done to companies who lack leadership succession planning?
An effective replacement takes time. The risks of not investing in it are that you could lose “momentum” or generate a climate of uncertainty and political disputes that squander the organization’s energy. But this also occurs with “non-leadership but strategic” positions and many companies do not seem to be very concerned about it.
There are numerous examples of increasing shareholder activism over the past year. How important is stakeholder management in leadership development?
Managing stakeholder relationships is a crucial task for any business leader. Making future leaders aware of it and learning how to make the most of these relationships instead of considering them a waste of time is essential. For many young professionals promoted to leadership positions — usually the best individual contributors — this is one of the hardest lessons to learn.