I was recently invited to review a university’s MBA program curriculum for leadership. I joined other CEOs in a fascinating evaluation of combining academic research and principles with real-world applications. It gave me an opportunity to assess further what individuals need to become leaders and how to build that into a training program.
There certainly are what I call “apple pie attributes,” such as trust and integrity, that leaders need to possess. But they really cannot be taught. They are either a part of an individual’s personality or they’re not. It’s everything else that makes a leader successful that I find truly interesting.
I commend St. Cloud State University for spearheading the evaluation and involving leaders in the process. Here is the list of key topics that we decided need to be covered in leadership course and my feelings on why:
1. Emotional Intelligence
Leaders face adversity. Their emotional intelligence is reflected in how they react to a situation. You’ve heard me call it psychological hardiness and it was a deal breaker for leaders who did not have it during the recent recession. When times get challenging or bad news need to be delivered, leaders need to be resilient and show confidence in their ability to lead. That takes a high EI. It’s during these times that leaders have the greatest opportunity to fall – or rise to the top.
2. Practices of Effective Leaders
Effective leaders mentor others – and often are sought out to do so. Ask a room of CEOs is they would be where they are today without a mentor and the answer would be no. Mentoring is essential to grooming the next generation and a responsibility of every leader today. Leaders know their strengths so they can understand – and help – others better.
3. Change & Challenges
You’ve heard me often repeat the sentiment: “Change is good as long as it happens to someone else.” Those words don’t come from leaders. Show me an industry that’s not changing and odds are that it’s declining. Change is engrained in business. Effective leaders promote change and shine through it.
4. Leadership Qualities
Leaders do what others can’t – or don’t want to do, and in many cases, that’s public speaking. It’s rare to find a leader who is not an effective communicator. Leaders need to be able to clearly articulate a message and adapt to their audiences.
5. Role of Reflection
A good leader, in most cases, is not going to strong in all the functions of running a business: finance, sales, operations, IT and administration. The best leaders know what they do well and don’t dwell on what they’re not good at. They play to their strengths and augment their weakness with leaders who are strong in the respective areas. It’s not about doing it all. It’s about everyone doing what they can well.
I encouraged the university to add execution to its list of essential topics to cover in a leadership course. Leaders – and their teams – can be filled with good ideas and good intentions. But they mean nothing without execution. Take IBM. Louis Gerstner often gets the credit for turning IBM around. But he’s the first to say that he only executed a strong strategic plan created by his predecessor. Leaders who can execute rise to the top and their companies become high performers.
I know many emerging leaders who aspire to hold an MBA. They think they need to be at the top. In my experience, an MBA may get you an opportunity to interview for a promotion, but it doesn’t land you the job. Confidence, personality and the ability to effectively communication with others are what ascend individuals to the top of the organizational chart.