How MBA leadership training can bring out the best in you

Considered one of the more important aspects of an MBA program, the subject of leadership training is a world unto itself. Martha Maznevski, MBA program director at IMD Business School helps us understand the nuances of this very popular subject.

What does leadership encompass?

There are basically two aspects of influence in leadership – one is the formal side and the other is the informal side.

While formal leadership comes from the authority of being in charge and having a position, in the real world formal authority can only get you so far because it doesn’t inspire commitment. Instead, it involves transactions, coercion and cooptation. People will go along so long as they believe in your formal authority and they can see some immediate benefit with incentives for themselves.

However, informal authority is much more important in leadership. The focus is on the interpersonal side of things. People follow you because they believe in you and because it helps them find intrinsic value. This side of leadership training is much more difficult to learn; MBA students can learn it through experience, feedback and coaching, but even with these tools, it’s difficult to learn it quickly.

How can leadership skills be taught in an MBA program?

At IMD Business School, for example, we have integrated leadership training throughout the MBA program. This means that students get a lot of very practical experiences relating to both formal and informal leadership skills.

In addition to this, they get a lot of feedback – from coaches, psychologists and peers, as well as from the whole MBA team. They can then put that feedback in place right away so as to try and create something different tomorrow.

How can the right kind of classroom encourage global leadership?

The first way global leadership is integrated into the MBA program is simply through the richness of the environment.  We have at least 45 nationalities in our class of 90. Although most of these students are used to working in an international environment, differences in cultural and industry backgrounds come out strongly.

This means that every piece of international news is local and personal to somebody in the room; the idea is to make that a part of the conversation.

This rich environment means that  you’re constantly working with a mix of cultures, places and stories. Most business schools have people from all over the world, but one of the things we know from leadership literature is that it matters what configurations of people you have. If you find that dominant cultures emerge, then you lose the impact of having so many cultures in the room.

It’s important that no single one really dominates and so the focus is on admitting the one best class, rather than just finding the 90 best individuals.

The second way in which global leadership skills are engendered in candidates are the projects and the cases. Our consulting projects take place in different parts of the world. People could be in Chile and China one week, then somewhere completely different the next. Together, as part of the MBA program, you explore a country with which few of the people the room are familiar. Leadership training happens in the context of all of these global experiences.

How do leadership and teamwork go together?

Leadership and teamwork training occurs naturally when working on projects as part of team.

There are different focuses that schools can adopt on leadership and teamwork. At IMD Business School we have an experiential approach, where the focus is on working on the basics of leadership and teamwork. Students go out and learn about how patterns of dominance and collaboration work in groups, and how to manage feedback and conflict.

Another module focuses on giving and receiving feedback, and is about working with difficult individuals and within difficult pairings. This is not to say that individuals themselves are difficult, but more to say that a student’s connection with someone else could be difficult, so they have to really focus on changing that.

The next space in which leadership and teamwork come into play is the discovery expedition to a different county.  Students have to work with a local small-medium size enterprise or the government. The learning experience is down to how you go about making a difference. From a teamwork point of view, you’re looking at how you influence each other and how you influence an outside party to really carry out the implementation.

Students can also learn about leadership and teamwork when they are part of change management or the implementation of a more complex kind of project. The leadership training focus during this part of the curriculum is about intergroup relations and the underpinning of organizational conflict, so they are learning to understand leadership in those large group systems.

How can one become a good leader? 

You cannot be a good leader and set an example for other people unless you understand yourself and your own drives and motivations. As a leader, if you’re going to be ambitious and make changes and lead people in important directions, then you are sure to be tested.

There are going to be plenty of times when people push your buttons, make things difficult or question you. If you don’t understand yourself and your reactions then you can’t rise above those interactions and lead people in a healthy and sustainable way.

At IMD Business School, as part of leadership training we also offer MBA students an elective to have 20 sessions with a psychoanalyst in order to help people become better leaders in sustainable manner.

This editorial was written by Mansoor Iqba, QS TopExecutive, and produced by The Washington Post custom content group and did not involve the news and editorial departments of this newspaper.