We go to business school to learn all the right skills, but are we actually taught the right skills? Are young people coming to us from University adequately equipped to work in our world? Of course we all need to know the fundamentals of basic business management, but what about those critical, but less obvious, competencies that leaders (formal and informal) must know in order to succeed? What are those essential skills not taught in business school that often cause high potential leaders to derail and never achieve their potential?
I was listening to Condoleeza Rice at an event this morning and she had some very interesting points regarding education (in addition to being a past Secretary of State, she has also been a University Provost and is currently a Professor at Stanford). She recognized the need to tighten the relationships between academia and business to better prepare people for the workforce they are entering… while also recognizing the enormity of such a lofty agenda. In my humble opinion, here are a few important aspects of leadership that are not taught in business school, but could definitely benefit from integration:
1) How To Create A Vision:
“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizon are limited by obvious realities. We need men and women who can dream of things that never were.” ~ John F. Kennedy
The problem with this statement is that many leaders do not know how to create a vision, do not realize how very vital it is to the success of their organization, nor what to do with the vision once they have finally figured it out. Here are a few simple tips:
- Work backward from your imagination, rather than forward from your past – the old adage, “What got you here, will not get you there” is an absolute truth.
- Remember that whatever you can imagine, you can accomplish – make a bet on a bigger future.
- Ask yourself some revealing questions as you develop your vision:
- What is an enormous strategic opportunity within your domain/organization/industry?
- What would change your business and your clients business… forever?
- What is missing that would truly revolutionize the products/services/processes/etc. that you represent? (Think Apple, Netflix, Facebook…)
- What will take your company/domain from status quo to breakthrough?
- What are you so passionate about that you would be willing to transform not only your company, but yourself?
- Think through and understand what it is going to require of you and the organization to realize the vision: Realistically ensure the benefits outweigh the costs.
- Document and publish an explicit, living, breathing, step by step plan that senior leaders, peers and staff can buy into and share ownership.
2) How to Execute With A Results Orientation
They don’t teach the dogged determination that creates the ability to execute in business school, but this quality is more important in making people successful and in executing in business than any other. However, if that is all it takes to execute, why do so many executives lack this ability? Because there is no system, formula, strategy, or tactical plan behind the vision – there is a weak results orientation and a lack of process knowledge to support forward movement (aside from a few additional factors we will cover next week). Naturally, it is important to begin with the end in mind, but many executives are so focused on the end, they end up chasing their tails and accomplishing little. Here are some straight forward ways for executives to facilitate their ability to execute:
- Again, understand first and foremost that “what got you here, will not get you there”! We live in a society of rapid change (wherever you are) and you must be prepared not only to do things differently, but to innovate to find increasingly effective mechanisms to accomplish your goals.
- Focus on the process, not the prize – concentrate on what will produce the results, rather than the results themselves.
- Get and stay connected – identify key strategic partners that can help you get where you want to go and consistently engage.
- Have both a tactical and a strategic plan.
- Execute one step at a time – by the inch it’s a cinch, by the yard it will be hard.
- Consistently engage ALL key players across boundaries & borders – without the buy-in and commitment of critical resources you will never succeed.
- Listen, don’t just hear – listen to what your subject matter experts are telling you and remain flexible in your game plan.
- Incorporate strict accountability measures – if no one is openly accountable, little will get done.
3) How To Network For Success
There is great power in knowing you can reach out to your network whenever you have a problem to solve, to be able to reach key influencers at conferences and meetings, to make an impression on audiences, to project confidence and trustworthiness, and to make friends with other successful people. The ability to connect on many levels is essential to success in business – in fact many top executives say networking is one of the top reasons for their success. Surrounding yourself with successful and intelligent people will allow you to consistently think smarter, as well as having access to brilliant people that will support your objectives and provide valuable insights. Networking presents opportunities to interact on a personal level and to develop profitable relationships. Most people have a reluctance to connect with strangers, however in business talking to strangers is essential and the only effective way to generate interest and support for what you do. It is so easy to stay within your controlled environment, however if you only talk to people you already know, you will miss significant opportunities to make new connections, create value and position yourself for success.
The greatest people in business have certain attributes in common. Some are natural gifts, others are learned attributes. Beyond those natural gifts –
Can we prevent the derailment of high potential leaders through the acquisition of critical skills not taught in business school?