Thursday, February 10, 2011
Reading the title above you may be thinking to yourself….wait a minute, I thought this was a blog on career management…why in the world are you spouting off about leadership development?
…and it’s a great question. Leadership remains a hot topic in the MBA community because it’s a hot topic in the corporate world. Every single MBA recruiter we see asks us if our candidates can LEAD - no matter function, industry or company! Recruiters have an expectation that candidates will demonstrate leadership abilities throughout an interview – no ifs, ands or buts. Think about it…without employee leadership there is no vision, no objectives, no strategy, no innovation, no collaboration and no ability to overcome – and you don't have a good recipe for organizational success. What recruiters want to see is that core ability to influence - align people to a vision, create an intelligent plan and then execute through the organization with excellence. The context can vary, the skill set is constant.
The study of leadership and management are critical to your professional development. The best MBA programs have classes that will provide you many of the frameworks needed to become a great leader and manager. That said, you should create a self-study program, including biographies of Various leadership temperaments and styles. Some of my current personal favorites include; The Truth About Leadership by Kouzes & Posner, The Extraordinary Leader by Zenger & Folkman, Shackleton’s Way by Morrell, Capparell and Shackleton, Gandhi’s autobiography. Study current leaders and managers. There is no shortage of press coverage for both good and bad examples. Look for diverse personalities that have demonstrated an ability to influence in their lives – after all, that’s what leadership is all about – through your vision, action, inspiration, activity, quiet reflection, writing, etc.…you get the picture. Embrace the debate between being a leader and being a manager - you will need to be both. Don't buy it when someone tells you management is not as important as leadership. As your reading, think about how you would explain these stories to others and how the lessons you're learning may help you tell your own story more effectively.
Most MBAs say they want to be leaders in some form or another, or at least called one, and some will search for a “magic bullet” of leadership development. Questions I’ve been asked by MBAs include; What book should I read? Which class should I take? Is there 10-step model I should follow to lead or manage a group? And my personal favorite…what’s the “right answer” to the leadership challenge in front of me? Frankly, those are all reasonable questions coming from students who seek to improve their leadership acumen. But there’s also a big missing question which I don’t hear asked often enough...
How can I practice leadership and management to get better? Practicing leadership, Reflecting on the process / results and then Applying the lessons moving forward is critical to leadership development. The US Army is a master at this game and has applied this very process to develop leaders from all walks of life. Recruiters want to hear about actual leadership examples from your past, not theory that you’ve read or philosophy of what you would do if given the chance. Get in the game to lead…either formally or informally. This could include a formal post such as class president, VP or club leadership. It could also include stepping up to lead a group of peers on a class project. Most importantly, you do not need to be in a leadership position to demonstrate good leadership qualities. It’s a frame of mind for how you intend to influence others in working with them. Ask for development opportunities at school or on the job – there are no shortages of problems to solve, people to influence and situations to overcome.
In the future I’ll continue to focus on topic of leadership from many different angles. I look forward to talking with you.