MBA Primer ~ Part V: Molding the Managerial Mindset

Blending the Buffet of Case Studies, Discussions & Group Projects

As you trudge through the 12 lockstep and four elective courses over an 18-month period, you soon find yourself elevating your organizational thinking and stepping back from the inconsequential blades of grass that might normally consume your daily tactical minutiae. With the finish line of the MBA disciplinary buffet in sight, you have been transformed into one who can and should think, speak and act as a manager.

However, considering yourself a manager has broader, immeasurable connotations depending on your particular industry and position. Just as you will hear in webinars and pithy quotes on Twitter, the oft-repeated sentiment that “managers just manage function or delegate to staff, but leaders inspire people.” People can relinquish and re-evaluate their perceptions of what a manager constitutes by stepping away from the ones that they interact with on a regular basis and observing how other types of managers exhibit leadership in other organizations.

What the MBA curriculum, besides hopefully augmenting your work experience, brings is a heightened sense of your soft skills in addition to the black-and-white business acumen-enhancing knowledge you have acquired. You will now be a more empathetic discussion facilitator, a shrew negotiator when dealing with intra-organizational conflict and a more patient mentor (at least in theory; depending on you schedule, priorities, interests and personality).

From the many in-class case study discussions of household-name, big-brand companies you will realize the areas of operations and planning that you may be lacking in as you ponder the input of others with different backgrounds and skills. You will appreciate the contributions of all, or at least try to most of the time, and let these insights mix with your thoughts on particular business situations or predicaments.

From the group projects outside of class, you will gain the coveted skill of a meeting planner in trying to set up a basic two-hour planning session in a central location, where as much as you try, not everyone will be able to be present for the whole time. You will quickly discern who the weak link is, who the over-aggressive, self-anointed leader is and how the others will just roll with whatever in the name of getting the project done. This is common sense group dynamics and we have all been there, but I think the important takeaway for MBA group projects is having some sense of a laissez-faire approach when charting your course with your varied personnel, whether chosen or assigned. What I mean by this is don’t be so focused on the exact parameters of the project criteria or the doling out of “who is doing which part?”, but sit back and observe the strengths and tendencies of your counterparts and then make your move to how you can make the pieces come together in the interests of delivering the goods to the professor, and in many cases, the ensuing group presentation to the class.

All of the case studies are very rewarding to read so you gain the “backstage access” in some respects to some companies’ rise and/or fall, rapid ascent as a market changer or crisis situations. In the course of the hindsight “20/20” discussions, you try to comprehend what you might have done differently if you had been in the hot seat of these situations. The best facilitators of case studies painstakingly go through the whole “post-mort” breakdown of the case – what the facts, the players, who messed up?, who rose to the top?, what is an alternative course of action, etc.

With all of these par-for-the-course graduate school exercises and evaluation mechanisms, the high volume of corporate America case studies, the rapid-fire class discussions and the intense, short-turnaround simulation group projects, come down to is this:

When you have gained all of this background information and the corresponding academic backbone to drive the dissection of the cases, what kind of an armchair General Manager could you be before the game (plan/project/crisis) begins or during it, instead of just being an under-informed, micro-focused, requisite Monday morning quarterback that is often the case when passing judgement or assessing organizational situations.

Thus, the goal in completing the program is not just showing on paper that you are now officially bestowed “managerial status” with the “directorial prowess” to lead a group, division or company. Rather, the intangible, if perhaps ambiguous, objective is to leverage all of the knowledge and group dynamic experience to demonstrate how you are a respected and trusted leader. It’s not just about the notion of “inspiring” people, but also laying out your vision, interjecting your thoughts in key areas being presented by others and being adamant about how certain aspects of your business are deployed under your watch.

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