People who want to get a jumpstart in the business world often enroll in a master of business administration (MBA) program. While the real world of building leadership skills starts after graduation, people who know they want to lead companies can and should begin developing their skillset from the first day at business school. Because business school is a different experience than undergraduate education, students may not understand how to make the most of their time and may feel like they have missed out once they do, especially because programs generally only last two years. While everyone is different and should figure out their own priorities, the following tips can help students make the most of their MBA experience and start building key leadership skills from the very beginning.
Embrace a global mindset.
As the world becomes increasingly connected, business leaders must be able to work across cultures. Often, large companies have teams of people situated all over the world, thanks to the ease of telecommunicating. Furthermore, leaders may be expected to undertake international expansion efforts, or to work with vendors and suppliers overseas. Students can lay the foundation for global business leadership skills during their MBA program by taking advantage of study abroad and international internship opportunities. If these aren’t available, seeking internships with multinational organizations can allow students to learn how an international business operates. Even in class, students can forge relationships with international students—simply connecting with people from different cultures can help students appreciate the nature and extent of globalization. In addition, these global relationships may prove beneficial in the future.
Approach the program from a place of humility.
Too often, people let pride get in the way of getting the most from an MBA program. That’s unfortunate, because one of the most important qualities for a business leader to develop is humility. The best leaders admit when they are wrong or when they aren’t an expert and ask for advice when they need it. MBA students can start developing this humility by doing the same while in school. When something does not make sense, students should not hesitate to reach out to their classmates for help. In turn, those same classmates will likely ask their own questions. This is how learning happens—through exchange and discussion. In addition, it’s possible to think about this exchange of information as network building. Humility helps bring people together and develop meaningful relationships that will last long beyond business school. Classmates can be future colleagues as well as friends, and taking the time to build relationships will pay dividends in the future.
Get comfortable with diversity.
The majority of business schools in the U.S. assemble diverse student bodies for their MBA programs. Students should take advantage of this diversity and learn how to work with people who come from different backgrounds in a respectful way. Diverse collaboration ultimately results in greater creativity and better outcomes, and MBA students who learn this lesson will have a clear advantage when they become leaders outside of the classroom. Everyone approaches problems from a different angle, so students can learn an incredible amount when they make sure that their teams are as diverse as possible. Because there is a certain learning curve to making diverse teams function effectively, it’s best to figure these lessons out in the classroom rather than the boardroom.
Take risks and fail.
Everyone in the business world will fail at some point. Sometimes, students fear failure so much that they take no risks at all. And if they take this same approach once they are in the working world, they will probably never achieve a position of leadership. Career success demands taking calculated risks. The supportive environment of an MBA program is the perfect time to take risks, fail, and learn that failure is not the end of the world or even an indication of future failure. When people turn failure into a learning opportunity and emerge from the situation stronger and smarter than before, they lose their fear of failure—and after that, almost anything is possible. Learning this lesson is easier in a supportive school environment rather than the “real world,” where the potential consequences may seem much more severe.
Keep an open mind.
Most people go into an MBA program with certain expectations in mind. Unfortunately, doing this can mean that they miss out on opportunities or fail to realize their true potential. While students may have ideas about what they want their career to look like, they should still be open to other opportunities during their MBA program. When students remain flexible, they may discover new skills and talents or unexpected job and internship opportunities that will serve them well in their careers—some of which they may not have explored if they had tunnel vision. In general, keeping an open mind is extremely important for business leaders. People who let their own assumptions or misconceptions cloud their interactions with colleagues and employees often miss out on important points that could lead to innovative solutions. Openness, on the other hand, leads to a stronger appreciation of other points of view and, ultimately, more creativity in an organization.