Business School or School of Hard Knocks? part 2

August 27, 2010 — 4 Comments

High potential global leaders quickly realize that there are challenges and roadblocks that they were not prepared for and that had not previously been contemplated.  Topics such as politics, networking, accountability, challenging the status quo, mentoring/coaching, execution, big picture/small picture balance,  etc. are not necessarily taught in business school, but these obstacles can derail careers and cause people to question their commitment to global business. If we are to successfully evolve leadership on a global basis, it is vitally important that we understand these challenges and ensure they are addressed – if not in business school, then certainly within our organizations. Here is the second installment with two more important aspects of global leadership that are not typically taught in business school:

1)   How To Navigate Organizational Politics

The definition of organizational  politics, or (more importantly) how to navigate them, is simply not taught in business school, yet the ability to master the political chessboard is absolutely essential to every executive’s success. A critical component to organizational success is sponsorship and stakeholder engagement. If you engage support from above, laterally, and below, you are likely to succeed. This equates to political influence. To influence others requires building relationships of trust and persuading others to follow, thus leading to power within your domain. To ignore politics in your organization is to ignore those underlying forces that account for the difference between success and failure between equally talented people.  People who understand and use politics to their advantage are much more likely to succeed than their politically naïve counterparts.

Leaders need to quickly identify those likely to support them and build strong coalitions aligning individual needs with organizational goals. You must realize that in addition to power and influence, organizational politics is a function of culture – and that politics will always serve both individual and organizational agendas. In order to master the political chessboard, you must to take a strategic approach to politics and should employ the following tips, while recognizing this is not an exhaustive list:




  • Spend time with opponents: Most of us spend time with our allies, who we trust and who agree with us… when the people we have the most to learn from are our opponents.
  • Never take anything personally: If it’s not personal it is far easier to maintain focus on what we are trying to achieve. It is our choice whether or not we will personalize things that happen.
  • Constantly reframe: It is natural to assume that it is “all about us” – the alternative is to recognize that much of politics is about people working to get things done within a diverse community of interests.
  • Leverage power dynamics: Recognize that power comes in several forms: legitimate, referent, reward, expert, and coercive power. Much of politics is based on power – who’s got it and how you can use it to your advantage.
  • Build on mutually beneficial interlocking relationships: The better you are at networking, the better you will be at organizational politics.
  • Focus on interests, not positions: In the interest of finding common ground, care about people’s interests and ask more questions.

Leaders need to inspire people to act by creating clarity and unity of purpose – building synergies through organizational values. We can leverage political skills to manipulate others… or to influence them to achieve more than they ever thought possible. As a global leader, which do you believe will accomplish more and move the organization forward faster?

2)   How To Find A Strong Mentor / How To Be A Value-add Mentor

Seeking a qualified mentor is as difficult as becoming one – and business school does not prepare our leaders for either scenario. Early in a career, a mentor is invaluable, and having the necessary skills to seek out and convince a value-add leader to invest in you can expedite your career exponentially. It’s hard to overestimate the value of a confidant from whom you can seek feedback on your ideas, advice on strategy, or a little support when things are not going as well as expected. But cultivating a mentor can be difficult – it takes perseverance to find the right person (with the right skills, position and attitude) that is willing to invest significant time and energy into your success. Unfortunately, the knowledge and wisdom to engage a mentor or coach early in a leaders career is not something that is readily facilitated in business school,  nor once out in the workplace when it could be truly effective and meaningful. Do not make the mistake that so many executives do (at any stage in your career) – find an exceptional mentor or hire a phenomenal coach.

Here are just a few qualities to seek,  either as an individual trying to identify a mentor or as a mentor seeking to maximize your value:



  • Willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise – A good mentor teaches what s/he knows willingly, understanding that good mentoring requires time and commitment. S/he is willing to share information and their ongoing support.
  • Acts as a positive role model – A good mentor exhibits the personal attributes it takes to be successful. S/he continually demonstrates the specific behaviors and actions required to succeed.
  • Takes a personal interest – A good mentor does not take his/her responsibility as a mentor lightly. S/he feels invested in a protégés and is committed to helping them find success and gratification in their chosen profession. Overall good mentoring requires empowering a mentee to develop their own strengths, beliefs, and personal attributes.
  • Provides guidance and constructive feedback – One of the key responsibilities of a good mentor is to provide guidance and constructive feedback to their mentee.
  • Good Listening Skills – a good mentor will genuinely listen, know your interests and commitments, and be able to ask you, first hand, how things are going.
  • Engenders Respect at all levels of the organization – A good mentor is someone who is well respected and whose contributions are appreciated.

The question remains – Can we facilitate the success of high potential global leaders through the acquisition of critical skills not taught in business school?

Because this is supposed to be a blogpost and not a book, I have addressed just two additional critical skills not taught in business school – the remainder of the abbreviated list will appear as next weeks post. I would love for you to engage the discussion, and let me know what skills you believe are critical to global business that are not taught in business school. Please feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week for the final (extended) installment of Business School or School of Hard Knocks?


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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

4 responses to Business School or School of Hard Knocks? part 2

  1. Tom Dannemiller August 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Well done Ms. Mackey. I agree these are skills not taught in school and make all the difference. I would suggest as well that these may be more than skills but the result of certain character traits that manifest themselves as skills. People who are effective political navigators are empathetic and unselfish. People who engage in health mentor relationships are introspective humble an share leadership traits.

    • Thank you Tom, great comments! I agree with you completely. For me the question becomes – if what we call “skills” may actually be manifestations of character traits, how effective can we be in instilling these traits in our up and coming leaders? One thing we should all consider is how we each contribute to politics and mentoring and how they are manifested within our organizations. We all contribute – whether positively or negatively – to the positions that are embodied in our organizations and young leaders often follow the examples they are provided. Business schools may not teach some critical skills, but does that excuse the bad behavior we often see exhibited within our organizations? I just don’t buy it – if we promote healthy org. cultures, we can set the right examples and encourage the right values within our environments.

  2. We had a fairly heated debate today over this subject. Ended with a agreeing to disagree.

  3. Very valuable insight into mentorship. Most people stop evolving beyond a point because of their inability to look beyond their own self centric ideas and decisions.

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