Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The MBA Experience: Does it prepare you for the real world

Does the MBA provide a good return on its investment?

I think so, but there are skeptics who disagree. Management expert Henry Mintzberg believes that MBA programs do the economy and businesses a disservice. In his book, Managers Not MBAs, he argues that economies run by graduate students have been found to underperform. When following the career paths of 19 top CEOs as ranked by Harvard Business School, ten had not performed very well and four yielded mediocre results.  Mintzberg believes there is too much focus on theory and not enough preparation for the real business world.

My former MBA program demonstrates otherwise. That's not to say that every student who graduated was ready to lead, but what it accomplished is it separated those who can lead from those who lacked the potential to. I watched with concern at how some of the brightest in my class dropped out. One woman in particular was serving in a management capacity at work. One could argue her example supports Mintzberg's claim, that the program does not depict reality. Or it could suggest that her company needs to re-think its hiring practices.

What the MBA program does is prepare students for the likelihood of leadership. Many of the students in my class had an undergraduate degree from various disciplines. They pursued the MBA for better opportunities: to someday run their own businesses, to prepare for promotions. Still others wanted the experience and the added knowledge. That's not to say they would wind up as leaders of major companies, only that they would at least improve the quality of their work ethics.

We didn't spend too much time on theory. The focus was on soft skills: writing, communication, respecting the opinions of others, challenging the conventional wisdom. These are critical leadership skills necessary in a profession that is lacking something. Specifically what remains unknown, but I did leave that program well-prepared for a world of uncertainty - my professors challenged our belief systems to the core.  Ethics was addressed objectively, we learned there were shades of gray and not all people who screwed up were necessarily evil. We learned that life, ideas, and people were unpredictable, diverse, at times broken, and it was our job to cope and lead ourselves and our followers to a higher level.

I graduated right after the financial crisis of 2008. My professors at the time had advised us to go out into the world and make it a better place. I still hold their words to heart and live each day as that leader.

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