The Personal and the Professional

Dr Kristine DeryBy Dr Kristine Dery, Senior Lecturer of Work and Organisational Studies

When designing our new MBA program, we set out to achieve two important objectives. Firstly, we wanted to put together a program that would help participants in the development of their technical and professional skill sets, and make them a more attractive employment option to managers.

Secondly, we wanted to help our students to complement their core technical skills with a strong program of personal skills development. Traditionally, it’s this second objective that most modern MBAs have failed to cover. The importance of strong personal skills in any leader cannot be overstated, particularly in light of the changes that have occurred in the world of business in the past five years.

When developing this program, we spent a lot of time talking to senior business managers from a wide range of organisations. Time and time again we heard stories of MBA graduates aged in their mid-20s to early-30s, who, while typically possessing excellent technical abilities, were unable to deal with unexpected dramatic change.

The GFC provided a classic case in point. When the established ways of doing business had to be re-assessed, most graduates were found wanting. Their capacity to cope with change at the highest levels wasn’t strong. Their ability to think critically, analyse the nature of an unexpected challenge and formulate a creative responsive strategy was poor.

That’s why part of our program’s core is devoted to the areas of designing strategy, leadership skills and capabilities, critical analysis and thought leadership.

Why are these abilities so important? It’s increasingly the case that managers are expected to have a view – not just about the issues and events on their immediate horizon – but more broadly about business and business in context of broader society.

Effective leadership is about asking the right questions at the right times. An innovative approach to strategy demands a broad view of the strategic landscape and environment. And in order to be a persuasive and effective leader, the capacity to critically analyse a situation and effectively communicate solutions is vital.

Further developing these personal attributes will be a key course initiative drawing on the participation of 10 prominent Australian CEOs. Each CEO will nominate a pressing business-related question they would like answered, and student teams respond via written opinion pieces and to-camera opinion presentations.

Working with our colleagues from philosophy and media and communications, students will hone their practical analytical and communication skills. In the process, they’ll be bringing fresh insights to some of the big business challenges of our time.

We believe that highly developed personal skills hold the key to effectively coping with change. Moreover, we believe the capacity to develop and exercise these skills needs to be built into the core makeup of our MBA students.

Indeed, their future success will depend largely on their ability to be agile and innovative in the face of the unexpected.

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