Updated: Mar 23
...a few pearls of wisdom from talking with MBA grads from around the world.
In the many years I’ve worked with MBAs, I have been in the unique position to listen to their stories evolve from the period they are out there looking for the right MBA for their career, to their year or two as a student again during their program, to becoming a successful and gainfully employed alum. Regardless of where in the world they attended their MBA program, or the industry in which they work, the wisdom they shared looking at their MBA tells me that indeed, the MBA is still a relevant and powerful catalyst that transformed them not only as professionals, but as people. Whether they graduated 10 years ago or just last fall, the value of the MBA still seems to be there, in terms of their take away and return on investment. These are some of the themes that have been shared with me time and time again by many of the MBAs that I personally know:
1. Be self-aware and be honest with yourself.
One of the first things is to be self-aware enough to realize your true strengths and weaknesses. This is probably easy enough to do when it comes to hard skills, but what about soft skills? How good of a communicator are you really? How comfortable are you actually when it comes to working in a very international environment, and you are in the minority, or perhaps the only one from your culture? Taking stock of your soft skills is harder than it seems, and it can be a tough pill to swallow to accept your weaknesses. This however is the first step in self-improvement, and only then do you have a chance at growth.
2. Manage your time like a pro.
The MBA teaches you how to prioritize and make difficult decisions - you simply have to. It’s sink or swim during that MBA, and you carry that for life. Due to the incredible amount of work, events, classes, meetings, etc. that you’ll juggle during the program, you’re forced to be more organized and effective in every one of your actions. Sometimes it can feel like every minute counts. You come out of the program knowing how to be more efficient and organized in all areas of your life. Coming out of the MBA, you’ll feel like you can take on more than before, more than you thought was possible.
3. Master intercultural communication.
Many MBA applicants would describe themselves as culturally sensitive or having at least some international exposure. Some already have an enormous amount of international experience pre-MBA, having studied or worked abroad earlier in their careers. And then comes the real culture shock during their MBA. Depending on the program you join, you may find yourself in a group of classmates, tasked with a complex assignment that you have to deliver and present on as a team for a shared grade...and it’s due tomorrow! No worries - you confidently dive and start discussing the approach. Only half of what your teammates say makes no sense at all! What is clearly black to you is white to someone else on the team, while the other teammates swear it’s green or purple. What?? Have you all lost your minds? In a high-pressure situation, where you have to deliver, despite the numerous vast cultural differences among you is the intense kind of training an MBA can give you in terms of intercultural awareness and collaboration. You may come to realize you’re not as open-minded as you once thought you were, and you’re forced to grow and adapt, which is never easy. Learning to anticipate differences in communication style, being nimble on your feet to adapt to the individual or group in front of you, and being patient with misunderstandings are absolute gold, in terms of soft skills when doing international business!
4. Define your vision and share it.
It’s incredibly important, not only before your MBA but on an ongoing basis, to reflect and define a vision for yourself. As time goes on, that vision will most certainly evolve and often it helps to talk about it, not only to close friends or mentors, but to your manager and other leadership at your company. It’s important to develop the confidence to talk about your self-vision, even if your vision is quite ambitious. Those who dream big, aren’t afraid to share it (without sounding arrogant), and are able to deliver will always get a seat at the table.
5. Stay humble, don’t take yourself too seriously, be modest.
Some MBA grads might develop an overinflated ego, which does not suit anyone well. Bragging or bullying doesn’t earn you respect - it makes you look like a jerk! You may have learned and achieved a lot during your MBA, but humility and modesty will earn you points with people. Particularly when you’re a new manager at a company, you may be tempted to assert your authority, but it’s always wise to make friends before you make changes, no matter what your level of seniority. You may technically be the big boss, but if people don’t feel respected, they won’t respect you or buy into your ideas. You’ll then find that making the changes you think are important very difficult. The best thing you can do at first is to listen - listen a lot! Get to know your team and what skills they bring to the table. What is their learning style? What is their leadership style? Soon you’ll learn how to best motivate each person on your team, and the time you take doing this will earn you the respect you need to lead your team to success.
6. Develop empathy.
Beyond cultural differences, we are of course all also different as individual people. You experience the world through your own eyes and other senses; however, the person right beside you may see things very differently. To truly get along with our colleagues and clients alike, we need to use empathy to understand other people’s perspectives, and their blocking points. Understand what challenges they face, fears they may have, things that excite and inspire them can make the difference between you closing the deal or not. Practice developing your empathy in quiet moments by observing the people around you, and try imagining what they are thinking and feeling. What kind of day are they having? What drama might they be dealing with beneath the surface? What will fill them with joy? Developing a sense of this will get you far at work but also in life. The success of our interpersonal relationships is determined largely by the capacity to be empathetic.
7. Network daily.
Most of the MBA alumni I know were already on a great career trajectory before they began their program, with interesting, well-paying positions (for their level of experience), and often at well-respected companies. Most of them felt confident that they could have continued on this path; however, they weren’t just thinking about their next job. They were thinking several steps ahead, and where they wanted their careers to be in the medium to long-term. They understood very quickly that without a powerful network, they would never rise to that level. The kind of branding that comes along with a top-ranked MBA network is like none other, and can propel your career into the stratosphere. Leveraging the network from your business school and networking beyond it on an ongoing basis is the way everyone makes the connections necessary to achieve their professional goals. The better you serve your network, the better it will serve you.
8. Never stop learning.
Probably the most important skill anyone should develop first is the capacity and willingness to learn new things. Curiosity goes a long way, but the tenacity required to go deep in learning new skills is what will keep you fresh and relevant. A healthy mix of continuing education programs, certifications, trainings, workshops, and simply reading a lot all contribute to the upskilling necessary to update your added value to a company. The pace at which the world is evolving means that companies need to evolve and update itself, and therefore so do its employees. It’s not only those who work in the tech industry - tech is everywhere and used in nearly all industries these days. If you don’t keep up with the evolving needs of your clients and customers, soon you’ll find yourself without much business.
To sum up, this kind of wisdom could come from any number of sources in the world; however, the way in which MBA students are taught to polish these gems in the context of all the hard skills they learn, all the while developing a powerfully branded network is what makes the MBA so special. Over the decades, since the birth of the MBA in the United States, it has spread around the world and reinvented itself as business, politics, technologies, and societies have evolved. To me it's incredibly clear that the modern MBA is more relevant than ever, and just might be the best thing for you and your career.
-Eric Lucrezia, Coach/Author, Candidate.Coach