7 Leadership Lessons That Aren’t Taught in Business School

7 Leadership Lessons That Aren’t Taught in Business School

In business school, students learn a number of skills that they need to run a business successfully, from networking to accounting. However, an MBA does not give people everything they need for success. One of the biggest shortcomings of many MBA programs is a lack of focus on leadership. Even programs like that at Harvard Business School have received criticism for inadequate leadership preparation. Some of the critical lessons for great leadership that individuals typically don’t learn in business school include:

  1. Gratitude is key for building important relationships.

Today’s business leaders often ignore gratitude and the role that it could play in developing key relationships. Leaders should learn to practice gratitude on a daily basis. According to research in Psychology Today, gratitude helps open new doors and forge new personal connections. Success in the business world often depends on personal and professional networks, so leaders should embrace any method of building these networks. Gratitude can also help leaders develop an optimistic outlook, which can combat the stress and pressure they often feel. Growing a business is hard work, but gratitude helps anchor people to the present and appreciate life as it unfolds around them.


  1. Low-tech sometimes beats out high-tech.

Nowadays, smartphones are basically a new human appendage—we’re always attached to our phones, whether on the train, eating lunch, or in a meeting. Great leaders understand how to embrace technology to streamline costly functions and save time, but they also appreciate the importance of low-tech encounters. Communication is one of the most important aspects of leadership, and face-to-face conversations ultimately help solidify relationships and allow people to express themselves more clearly than phone or video calls. While technology is obviously essential, it can also serve as impediment to building personal relationships with employees, business partners, and even customers.

  1. Leaders do not stand alone.

Most MBA programs do a good job of teaching individuals how to assemble an effective professional team. However, these programs often ignore the fact that leaders cannot take on all of their company’s work by themselves. Creating effective executive teams requires trust—leaders must trust that the individuals they hire are capable, intelligent, and acting with the best intentions. Micromanagement, which stems from mistrust, can quickly lead to burnout. Leaders need to learn to let go and rely on the people they have hired to get the work done. In addition, great leaders take it a step further and identify their personal weaknesses. They then bring people on board who can complement their own abilities by making up for these weaknesses.

business team

  1. Inspiration comes from customers.

Business leaders learn all about the importance of innovation while at school, but they sometimes come to believe that inspiration always comes from the top. Unfortunately, this belief can put a lot of undue pressure on leaders to innovate when they don’t really understand exactly how to do so. This is where the importance of listening to customers comes into play. When leaders start to listen, they begin to hear all kinds of suggestions on how to make a product or service better. While not all of these ideas warrant pursuit, some of them will contain significant wisdom that leaders can use to improve their business and motivate their team. For this reason, it’s important to create easy ways for customers to provide feedback, and to set aside time to listen.

  1. Success involves sacrifice.

Earning an MBA is hard work, but the struggle does not end once someone graduates. Only by working in the field can individuals begin to appreciate the real sacrifice that success typically requires. Working long and late hours means missing moments with loved ones and sometimes doing what is best for the company, even if it means giving something else up. In an interview, Barbara Corcoran of the popular show Shark Tank talked about how she left her company in the hands of a partner to take another job that would help her pay down her mounting debt. While she hated being an employee, her sacrifice saved her company from financial disaster. Sacrifice could also mean moving to a different location to save money, or letting go of a beloved project for one that is actually making money.

  1. Keep an eye on employee progress.

Most employees want to progress in their careers and therefore seek out companies that offer professional growth opportunities, or at least a chance of an upward trajectory. Sometimes, employees come to a company for one job, but they develop a skillset that makes them more suited for a different position. Great leaders maintain open lines of communication with their employees and check in with them often to figure out what they want, while also looking at how they have progressed. Everyone has potential for growth, and good leaders are able to recognize when employees’ interests and abilities have evolved. There might not be a new, open position for the employee, but the leader should at least consider the idea of giving the employee a new project or responsibility. Ensuring everyone in the right position is one of the best ways to maximize talent at a company.

report progress

  1. Decisions involve more than numbers.

Too often, leaders rely only on metrics and figures to make decisions instead of looking beyond the numbers. While statistics can help identify a problem or suggest a solution, they don’t always tell the whole story and can sometimes be misleading. For example, consider a plan to require employees to work one weekend shift a month. The plan might seem to increase productivity, but it could also lead to burn out, causing the employees to become less productive. It could also frustrate employees and prompt them to quit, costing the company time and money to replace the lost talent. Employees are people and should be treated as such. In addition, morale is critical for a company’s success.