MBA Grads Need Soft Skills to be Effective

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights how a number of leading MBA programs including Columbia, Stanford and UC Berkeley are incorporating soft skills into their programs. This made for interesting fodder during a recent car ride with colleagues to a meeting. We discussed how the old school, type A, MBA grad is still alive and well, and barking their way around corporations.

Thankfully that approach to leadership isn’t as widely accepted as it once was.  Indeed, according to this article many of the changes underway by leading business programs are in response to employers needs and their desire to move away from this model; employers have learned that leaders without soft skills can’t in fact lead. According to one recruiter, this has even changed the way candidates are interviewed. One-on-one interviews to assess expertise in functional areas have been replaced by interviews where, “…candidates work in groups to solve a business problem and [the recruiter] monitors how they interact with each other and deal with disagreements.”

One take away here would be to look closely at any MBA program before you enroll to see if they’re teaching these skills. Also, according to Jeff Davis who teaches the UMass Donahue Institute’s Leadership Excellence Certificate, effective leadership training can be found outside of your MBA or BBA program. However Jeff cautioned that soft skills aren’t always labeled soft skills, so you need to look closely at any training program to see if their content fits the bill.

In Jeff’s program, for example, he never labels anything ’soft skills,’ but he covers critical soft skills areas like ’self-management’ which includes  topics such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence (i.e., awareness of others), and sensitivity as a leader both by learning how to read the environment and people’s emotional states. He also explores ‘management of others,’ including hands-on practice with giving performance feedback. So even if your MBA or BBA program did fall short, there are still ways to get the skills you need to wow them at that next interview.