3 Leadership Strategies Your MBA Didn’t Teach You
A few lessons learned through experience may contribute most to your success as a leader.
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MBA programs tend to focus on the nuts and bolts of the business world: finance, operations, marketing, and strategy. As vital as these are, even the best MBA programs fail to teach three critical lessons that are essential to lasting success in the business world.
1. Culture Matters More Than You Think
Partners In Leadership conducted a survey of over 40,000 employees in companies across sectors on the topic of workplace accountability, including the relative importance of both business strategy and office culture. 74% of respondents said that their organizations prioritized strategy over culture -- unsurprising when you consider that strategy is the stuff MBA programs are made of.
More surprising, however, was the number of respondents who recognized that these priorities were all wrong. 96% indicated a belief that culture had a bigger impact on business than strategy.
So, why do we continue to put such an emphasis on strategy, when we know that the real challenge is culture?
What's truly missing from our approach to leadership, it seems, is management of work culture. Too many business leaders are focused on driving results above cultivating culture. If your leadership style follows the pattern of "Tell 'em, bribe 'em, then force 'em," you won't empower individuals to take accountability for their own work.
Instead, leaders should aim to build a skillset where they understand how to intentionally and consistently shape the culture of the organization. Leaders who do this effectively understand that culture is like the operating system within the organization. When the operating system is running smoothly, any strategic apps placed into the system run well. When the operating system isn't running smoothly, the apps won't run effectively.
2. Clear Objectives Cultivate a Sense of Purpose
Another lesson that may not have been emphasized in your MBA curriculum? The importance of organizational purpose, and how to create objectives that foster it. Put simply, purpose is the reason why an organization exists in the first place -- and Key Results are the measurable milestones that help an organization determine if it is living up to its purpose.
It's simple: an organization's Key Results should align with its stated purpose.
Say, for example, that an organization has been founded with environmental conservation in mind. If that organization's Key Results place profit above environmental benefit, its purpose becomes meaningless. If, however, a portion of the company's profits are being donated to environmentally-friendly causes, then the organization has pursued goals that align with (and thereby validate) its stated purpose.
3. Internal Relationships are Strengthened in Pursuit of a Common Goal
A well-known restaurant organization recently conducted a survey of its 65,000+ employees. The survey revealed that 65% of the eatery's millennial workers wanted their work to align with their personal purpose in life. In response, the company unified the messaging around its own organizational mission statement, created measurable Key Results to achieve that mission, then began actively seeking employees who felt personally invested in achieving the company's goals. The relationship between employer and employees was strengthened, and people were energized at every level of the hierarchy.
When employees feel deeply aligned at both a personal and professional level with an organization's Key Results, their relationship with the company is a lasting and meaningful one. When employees believe that going to work helps them fulfill their own life's mission, they are happier and more productive in the workplace.
Beyond the MBA
MBA or not, any aspiring leader should seek to answer these questions: How do people relate to one another in the workplace and how can an organization manage people in a way that breeds positive results for the company while also empowering employees?
While an MBA program provides great foundational knowledge for a career in business, the best leaders understand that the learning doesn't end once the degree has been earned. The leaders who set themselves apart are those who know strategy in and out, but never stop seeking new ways to improve company culture.