• 13th February 2007 - By proteman

    Yesterday’s WSJ Online had an article describing how top tier business schools like Dartmouth and MIT are now focusing on the soft skills of managing, by “…copying and adapting popular corporate techniques such as coaching, personality assessments and peer feedback. The article says the schools are responding to increasing interest from employers who are looking for better inpersonal skills in freshly minted MBAs.

    I remember when I was pursuing my Executive MBA at the University of Miami’s business school several years ago, I had a few academically-obsessed professors who frequently “poo pooed” the work of consultants. (Overall I HIGHLY recommend UM’s Executive MBA program and most of the professors were amazing.) One Leadership professor in particular grudgingly shared some of Ken Blanchard’s work, to “just let us know what’s out there,” because we’d probably be exposed to it when we got into the corporate world. She clung to her heavily-research based theory and leadership models, which in her opinion (and which she was not shy about sharing) was much more ligitimate than the practical but “light” stuff that corporate consultants taught.

    It’s about time that business schools started recognizing the need for balance between teaching strategy, finance and analysis (the “hard” stuff), and the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence (the “soft” stuff) required to lead effectively in today’s business environment.

    What’s the implication for business? You can capitalize on this trend by doing the following:

    • When hiring new business school graduates, ask them what they learned about the “interpersonal-side” of managing in their MBA program. The WSJ article says that many programs now require students to take leadership assessments and create development plans for themselves. Find out what insight graduates gleaned from their assessments and development plans, and what actions they have been taking to hone their skills.
    • Don’t assume that even with soft-skills built into the curriculum, new MBAs are ready-made for leadership responsibility…particularly the challenge of managing people of diverse backgrounds and styles. Nothing is a substitute for the first-hand experience of leading people in a corporate setting. Give them support, such as mentoring, continuous leadership development training and coaching, to help them deal with the day-to-day challenges of applying soft-skills theory to the real world.
    • Talk to your local college about incorporating practical, soft-skills training into their MBA and undergraduate business programs. By doing this, you’re helping to create your own pool of better-prepared, new leaders in your own back yard.
    • Keep your seasoned managers’ soft-skills sharp with ongoing development. New business school graduates with stronger interpersonal skills raises the bar on all leaders in the organization. Make sure your vets are getting the same tools and resources your new managers are getting. It’s easy to assume that veteran managers have “been there, done that” when it comes to training in topics like Coaching, Performance Management and Giving Feedback. But seasoned vets get sloppy on the soft-skills without continuous development, feedback and refreshers (I include myself in that category…even I can get sloppy and I teach this stuff!).

    For more information about succession management and the importance of soft skills for future leaders, see the following link to our e-newsletter:

    http://www.theloyaltygroup.com/tt.Vol1.issue7.pdf

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