Great leaders are rare. That’s why every company in the world invests in discovering employees with demonstrable leadership skills. According to one survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, over 80% of employers look for some evidence of leadership skills in candidates. Yet, leadership skills are rarely emphasized throughout one’s undergraduate education, and this has contributed to the mistaken impression that the ability to lead is innate. The reality is that you might not be a good leader yet… but the skills and qualities that embody great leadership can be taught, practiced, and mastered.
What Leadership Is Not
Leadership is often misunderstood. In movies, television, and popular culture, leaders are often portrayed as the most brash and most forceful personalities. In high school and college, leaders in small groups were those who simply did the most work or spoke for the group most often. These misunderstood notions of leadership are so ingrained that, often, “leaders” in these settings inspire little more than derision and animosity.
In a business setting, leadership is about inspiring the best in the people around you. That’s why companies invest so heavily in recruiting and developing leadership talent. It’s not surprising, then, to see the most prestigious MBA programs put a special focus on developing leadership skills in a wide variety of courses and curriculums.
When you attend a top tier MBA program, you graduate ready to lead — and businesses around the world know that which is why 77% are actively looking to hire MBA graduates this year according to the Corporate Recruiter’s Survey from the Graduate Admissions Council.
What Leadership Skills Can You Learn?
If you want to be a leader, a strong MBA program can curate the essential leadership skills that businesses need. These are some of the skills that recruiters and hiring managers seek out in a leadership-level candidate.
Communication and Soft Skills
Soft skills are those skills and talents that are almost never tested in a classroom but which are vital when it comes to interacting with other people in a business, professional, or interpersonal setting.
Soft skills can even involve good listening and people skills. And, most importantly, soft skills will often complement “hard skills” (the tangible work-related skills you learn, such as accounting or business analytics). These skills can be incredibly important to employers. One recent survey from Morning Consult for Cengage found that the skill of listening was in high demand — as many as 74% of the businesses surveyed listed it as their most valued soft skill.
“Attention to detail” and “effective communication” were not far behind — representing the significant value that employers place on the kinds of soft skills and communication strategies the right MBA program can teach you to excel at.
Strategic, Higher-Level Thinking
Good leaders anticipate problems and provide direction without becoming overwhelmed. Leaders provide vision, and to do that, they need to be able to think strategically, surveying the business environment from 30,000 feet. Students in MBA programs are taught how to think beyond the day-to-day routine by setting benchmarks and enacting visionary strategies to achieve long-term goals.
Employers are always looking for high quality, strategic thinkers, especially when it comes to leadership roles. The classes in MBA programs teach students the skills they need to balance daily demands against long-term goals, using the latest strategic planning models and tools to ground their decision-making and reasoning.
Financial and Analytical Skills
Leaders must be competent. In the business world, this often means having the financial and analytical skills to look at accounting or user data and make informed decisions. The ability to look at a complex set of financial data or user behaviors and form accurate insights from the numbers is a skill that takes practice, commitment, and refinement.
That’s why students in MBA programs are constantly tasked with analyzing data and synthesizing conclusions. As a leader, this will often mean exercising the ability to take your team’s data and analyze the success of your outcomes against your overall strategy and financial goals. Financial data is complex — but good leaders know when to listen to the data.
Leave the Ego Behind
Fundamentally, leadership is about eschewing the ego, about de-centering yourself and instead focusing on the needs, abilities, and goals of your team. Leadership skills can propel you and your team to success, and that’s why recruiters and hiring managers hold them in such high regard.
Students enrolled in Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business MBA programs get a comprehensive education in leadership skills, setting them up for high-demand careers.