Do MBAs equip managers to be good leaders?

We’re only one month in to 2010, yet the year has already seen the publication of two reports suggesting soft leadership skills are more effective, even during tough times, than the traditional command and control, target-driven styles that are so commonplace.

The first study, the Institute of Leadership and Management’s  (ILM) Corporate Learning Priorities Survey 2010, revealed that 67% of respondents said the development of middle managers was their first or second priority, compared to 35% who will be putting an emphasis on developing senior managers.  It also highlighted that equipping managers to handle change was another priority for 67% of respondents.

The ILM report followed another by The Work Foundation, which involved in-depth interviews with senior personnel from BAE Systems, EDF Energy, Tesco, Unilever and the Guardian Media Group.  Its findings showed that while all the leaders involved in the study said that engaging staff in the company vision, outstanding leaders gave a greater emphasis to the importance of engagement, describing it as something that deeply affected an employee’s commitment.  Penny Tamkin, lead author of The Work Foundation report explains that “outstanding leaders focus on people, attitudes and engagement.  Instead of one to one meetings centred on tasks, they seek to understand people and their motives”.

Softer skills in leadership styles and in coaching bring out the very best in people and facilitate team working and help to equip managers to handle change, another priority cited in the ILM study.  

Coaching is about getting the very best out of someone and enabling them to make decisions that will improve their life – at work or at home – and get the best out of them.   It’s also about communicating, it’s an on-going experience and most importantly of all, it’s about helping people to find their own solutions.  And people who are involved in making the change are more likely to be the change required.  Ultimately it’s a form of change facilitation. 

The best leaders already know this.  So will 2010 be the tipping point for organisations to prioritise soft management skills, or at least give them as much emphasis, as traditional hard business management programmes?  So, do MBAs equip managers to be good leaders?  Certainly the lack of an MBA has not prevented the likes of Terry Leahy, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick being seen as inspirational leaders as well as top business people.

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