KFA Writes

What should MBA deliver?

2021-05-13

Abstract

What it takes to excel in career: a strong network or higher academic qualification? Pat comes: “both.” Academic qualification normally raise competence. And ability to manage people results in strong network. But is it possible to be competent and good at managing people simultaneously?

 

 

We must have observed in our offices: some of the managers are competent while others are good at managing people. But how often do we find a manager who is both competent and good at managing people?

The quest for academic qualification warrants time, money and devotion. And the desire to maintain a huge network of professionals’ mandates not only regularly meeting a large number of people but also ability to strike a connection. It would be great if we could accomplish both of these resource intensive feats together. Yet, given the contrasting skillsets required, they also look mutually exclusive.

The problem of unlimited wants vying for limited resources has been chronicled for long and became the bedrock of Economics. It resulted in choice and opportunity cost—the benefits forgone. It is apparent both academic qualification and networking require perseverance. And that calls for allocation of time which is scarce. So, we are again faced with choice. And for lack of proper schooling, we have been preferring one to another. But are we making a too big a sacrifice?

Popular adage, ‘first impression is the last impression’ is on the verge of being a cliché. But Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy who has been studying first impressions believes the phrase is still spot on. In her book, “Presence,” she says people judge you on two criteria when they first meet you: warmth and competence.

Those dimensions of judgement transform into respective questions: Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? The reality is everyone wants to sound competent. And warmth is frequently overlooked. But she says, these two questions are played in that particular order. And only when the answer to the first is positive then the second question comes into play.

Though any findings can be disputed, this one, upon deliberation, looks true. Biggest adversary of a human is another human and not some animals or even virus. Those non-human threats have been either cowed into submission or altogether eliminated. Travel back to the hunting/ gathering age: one would not let stranger approach until one was sure he was not going to stab one. The stranger could be a great hunter but his hunting skill would be secondary. Only when trust was established would then one include the stranger in one’s team and, probably, evaluate his other attributes.

With time, we civilized. But our inherent characteristics have remained immutable: only that the literal morphed into figurative. Establishing trust still remains the first key to any meaningful connection. See the deadlock in politics world over. A leader is not going to delegate his authority to junior until he is convinced the junior would not usurp his position. Competence can always wait.

The revelation of how we are judged paints a bleak picture. Students often assume academic qualification alone suffices to land plum jobs. It might. And with position comes line authority that would force subordinates into acquiescence. But numerous researches have demonstrated that humans are loath to submit. Instead, a successful manager must also be a great leader to motivate his staff into working. LinkedIn – the professional networking site – is replete with memes eulogizing leader and slamming manager. “People don’t quit job, they quit manager,” is embarrassing to any boss who has to live with his subordinates’ resignation.

Professionals, by default, are fairly well educated. And academically sound candidates should earn the admiration of fellow colleagues and juniors with ease. But Google experienced themselves that they don’t. So, why the educated end up just being a manager and not a leader? What gives? Incomplete education. Normally, academic courses are designed to improve competence. And they churn out good academicians and technicians. But they completely miss out on warmth – the key to building trust – and fail to produce leaders.

The good thing is skills can be nurtured and honed. Training in competence leads to strong academic performance while training in warmth leads to being a great manager of people. Though cultivating nuanced skillset of warmth to earn trust of fellow human being is particularly challenging, nonetheless, it is doable. Realization that there is a skill called warmth alone is half the work done.

And here comes MBA to the rescue of management: well, not everyone but the well-thought-out ones. MBA is more like a club running an academic course. And clubs are all about socializing, learning and networking. Split the class into groups and throw in some assignment that requires teamwork. Do it multiple times and randomize the groups. Give some individual assignment but encourage collaboration all the while amplifying benefits of warmth. And there is alumni network – the outcome of realization that networking is vital to career success.

But networking is not just being acquainted with an army of professionals. An acquaintance turns into network when there are mutual benefits to both parties. Sharing ideas, adding inputs, even if one cannot be of much help works to cement relationship. And being genuine and not attempting things outside one’s interpersonal skills goes a long way to build trust.

No wonder, professionals all over the world are scrambling to obtain MBA degree to further their career. So am I. No doubt, a well-designed MBA curriculum equips one with competence to run a business or even start one. It also infuses one with soft-skills needed to earn trust and manage people. Trained with smattering of Human Resource Management, Organizational Behavior, Economics and other relevant subjects that smack of management, a manager learns to exploit opportunities, neutralize threats, motivate staff and reward shareholders.

Ironically, many Nepali business schools have failed to distinguish between regular management courses (e.g. MBS) and MBA. Just replacing ‘S’ with ‘A’ does not an MBA make. They have taken networking for granted by leaving it up to the students to hook up with anyone they like without any dedicated strategy. It is waste of time of working professionals. Besides, not delving on warmth, those schools risk producing MBA degree holders focused so much on academic that they will fail to realize they first have to win over fellow human beings before they get to flaunt their competence.

-Kamal Parajuli
Evening MBA (KFA Business School), Sem - 1
Columnist, The Rising Nepal

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