With an entire two thirds of respondents to a recent GMAC survey saying they felt corporations need to be socially responsible, it’s clear that people’s idea of a successful business is starting to look a lot more like Patagonia than Shein.
However, pursuing a career in social action isn’t always easy—particularly for MBA candidates. For those who have made a large financial investment in their education, the pressure to jump into a high-paying role can make ethical questions less important when making career choices.
Fortunately, with the right MBA program—one that focuses on sustainability and social impact—it’s possible to learn the necessary skills to find success while also making a difference.
So, what skills do you need to make a positive impact in business?
One of the most important traits required in a career that strives to make a positive difference is the ability to persevere–no matter the pushbacks. That’s why resilience is among the most important skills an MBA can teach you.
It’s a trait that Chuck Casano, graduate of the IE Business School, can attest to. Currently the CEO of the South American-based superfruit company, Pitaya Foods, Chuck’s socially driven mission is to improve the communities that he works with.
But so far, it's the resilience that he picked up during his MBA that has allowed Chuck to realize his goal, he feels.
At IE, MBA students can choose from an array of courses focused on behavioral skills, such as teambuilding and managing complexity, all of which help to develop grit for when times get tough.
“I don’t sweat the small stuff,” he says. “Instead of worrying about failure I can concentrate on moving forward.”
The economic and political climate never stays stagnant, and neither can businesses. In today’s fast-paced world, impactful leaders need to possess the mental agility necessary to overcome whatever challenges are thrown their way.
For IE MBA grad, Maximilian von Hoyningen, it’s the ability to come up with new solutions that has enabled him to launch a successful career in sustainability at World Wildlife Fund Germany.
“What IE taught me was how to break down a business problem into its parts and then find a solution which solves the issue,” Maximilian says. “Especially because of its strong focus on entrepreneurship, these solutions were usually to try something new.”
One of the standout features of the MBA course at IE is its emphasis on creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. The degree offers a multitude of electives designed to improve your cognitive skills, such as Efficient Problem Solving and Creative Skills and Solutions—all of which will only increase your professional dexterity.
3. Emotional Intelligence
You can have the most sustainable, ethical business plan in the world, but if you can’t get anyone else on board, you’re going to run into problems.
Perhaps one of the most important requirements of an impactful leader is awareness of the feelings and sensitivities of the people around you. Coworkers, clients, and surrounding community are as integral to the success of a business as its leaders.
“Happier and more productive workplaces are being built around strong values, an enriching and respectful culture, and the awareness of employees’ emotions and wellbeing,” says Nicolo Carpaneda, the founder and CTO of his own sustainability-focused software company.
Nicolo shares that it was his experience studying the International MBA at IE Business School that helped him develop the emotional intelligence required to run a multicultural business.
With over 140 nationalities represented on the IE campus and a curricular focus on teamwork, developing an understanding of how to work with people from other cultures is a vital part of the degree.
4. Data Analysis
Nowadays, being able to collect and analyze data is crucial for business leaders to not just make impactful decisions, but to future-proof their careers.
In a 2023 Corporate Recruiters Survey issued by GMAC, data analysis was listed amongst the top five skills that employers want to see in MBA students, with the majority believing that it will only grow in importance over the next five years.
The MBA program at IE offers a variety of digital fluency courses to its students. These include modules on Big Data and data visualization, as well as more hands-on topics, such as learning how to use data analytics to accelerate the growth of startups.
5. ESG (Economic, Social, Governance)
If you are pivoting towards a career in sustainability, learning how to effectively implement ESG (environmental, social and governance) practices is essential.
Increasingly, companies are using ESG factors as guides by which to screen investments. This helps to ensure that businesses are not just making decisions that will make money, but will also benefit both the environment and the community.
As the FT-ranked number one school in the world for ESG teaching, IE Business School provides numerous courses covering sustainability on its International MBA curriculum.
In addition to being able to participate in a range of sustainability-related initiatives, such as the Social Impact Lab which supports social enterprises in South Africa and Spain with consulting projects, MBA students can also pick from an array of sustainability electives.
These include subjects like Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing, Sustainable Finance, and Impact Investment.
With the right combination of these hard and soft skills, and a drive to make a difference, it is possible to become a successful business leader while also making a positive impact.