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5 Leadership Qualities Every MBA Should Have

Leadership qualities go much beyond telling people what to do. Listening, coaching, and support are all important skills for every MBA student


Thu Feb 6 2020



Great companies have great leaders. Eminent business heads like Sheryl Sandberg and Tim Cook display leadership qualities that have brought them to the influential positions where they are today. It’s no coincidence that both Cook and Sandberg both studied an MBA. 

There’s much to learn from an MBA program about the dos and don’ts of leadership. We spoke to Professor Julia Milner, leadership coach and academic director of the Global MBA at EDHEC Business School in France, who told us her secrets for being a great leader.

1. Willingness to listen

It sounds simple, but listening is one of the most important leadership qualities for MBAs. It plays into a more compassionate type of leadership—not one based on authority and discipline, but based on trust and respect. 

For Julia, this is a running theme through her personal role models and leaders in her career. “If I look back at what they were all doing, it’s listening. It’s not making decisions over your head, but involving you.”

Much has been made of listening as a core skill of modern leadership. It’s giving leaders the opportunity to engage directly with their employees, to listen to their input and feedback, and make decisions that feel justified. 

It’s particularly important for leaders who may not be an expert in the field in which they are leading, which is becoming much more common. Listening helps you learn from the experts around you, and make more qualified decisions from a leadership perspective. 

2. Ability to coach

Coaching was once seen as a separate skill for leaders, but it’s now becoming a key leadership quality, particularly for those leaders who aren’t experts in the field. 

Julia encourages a strong ‘coaching as leading’ philosophy. “You don’t have to be the best in everything, but you have to be able to bring out the best in everyone.

“You need to be able to see the best in people, see their strengths, place them according to their strengths and interests and passions in order to create better workplaces where everyone thrives,” Julia stresses. 

The EDHEC Global MBA dedicates a whole course to coaching on its leadership development program, where students have a foundational introduction on how to coach. 

“It’s about being able to question, help with goal setting, strengthen others and be able to have solution-oriented conversations, Julia adds. 

3. Giving, and receiving, feedback

It makes some people cringe with embarrassment, or squirm in discomfort, but giving and receiving feedback is an important skill for leaders to self improve.

“All too often, the higher you climb up the ladder, the less feedback you get. That makes it tricky to improve yourself,” Julia explains. 

Collective assignments on the leadership development program at EDHEC give students opportunities to work in groups, with chances to step up and lead. This involves teamwork reviews, which are facilitated group feedback sessions where teams have the opportunity to learn to give and take on feedback. 

This teaches students to understand where you, and your team, has succeeded and failed, and how to move forwards positively with these findings. 

4. Being supportive

Good leadership clearly isn’t about bulldozing through people. Being supportive is a huge factor in being a good coach, being a good listener, and being a leader who people want to follow. 

“You need to want to see the positive in people,” she recommends, “But even more, it involves stepping up and having [your team’s] back when they need you.”

“You need to be available, support them, be known that you are there for them.”

On the global leadership track on the EDHEC Global MBA, students take a one-week trip to Singapore. Visiting companies and industry leaders, students can see real life models of supportive, positive working environments. 

5. Understanding the benefit of self-reflection

The busy life of the leader doesn’t always give time to sit back and reflect. But taking time for yourself, for reflection, and for self-improvement can be key to unlocking your own potential. 

This comes into the leadership development program at EDHEC where, on top of peer review and feedback, students must undertake self-evaluations and appraisals. 

Why is this so important? It’s simple—bad leaders don’t always know that they are bad leaders. Learning to acknowledge, accept, and improve from your mistakes can help combat this. 

It also plays into the idea that anyone can be a good leader, given the time to understand your own strengths and leadership style. “It’s important that people are able, and willing, to step up and be a leader so we have more good leaders in the right positions.”