Getting an MBA may prepare you more for management than leadership, according to Development Dimensions International’s High-Resolution Leadership research released this month.
The study took about 15,000 leaders, midlevel and higher, and assessed them through day-in-a-life leadership simulations to observe their skills in action. For example, senior-level leaders participated in fake media interviews, and other leaders dealt with customer interactions, peer interactions and emails or voicemails at the pace of business.
The study found that, when comparing leaders with MBAs and those with bachelor’s degrees, an MBA doesn’t necessarily make a person a stronger leader. An MBA can be associated with strong management skills, such as business savvy and financial acumen but not with larger leadership capabilities like compelling communication or inspiring excellence.
“There’s a management element to leadership that absolutely can’t be disregarded, but ultimately if leaders are just managing the current state of talent, they aren’t preparing and building a future group of leaders,” said Evan Sinar, DDI chief scientist and co-author of the study. “The long-term potential of the broader group of employees as well as their motivation and engagement starts to sag.”
The research also suggests that while advanced degrees may not necessarily give a potential-leader the edge when it comes to all leadership skills, people can use this to their advantage. People with a particular background can use skill gaps within their degree as an opportunity to distinguish themselves from others with similar backgrounds.
For example, MBA graduates tend not to stand out in areas like compelling communication, driving for results and inspiring excellence in the DDI research. Sinar said an MBA grad who soaks up anything from a leadership perspective, especially in areas where their peers are weak, will have a great competitive advantage.
A combination of formal learning, learning from others and on-the-job learning may be the winning learning formula to instill new skills in leaders. Formal learning in the business setting can be useful because leaders use a foundation of core structures and frameworks. Further, there’s a way of thinking in leaders that’s difficult to achieve without some formal development.
Learning from others is important because of the collaborative nature of learning. It’s especially vital to have partnerships in other functions or to have a mentor. There’s more variation to how organizations accomplish on-the-job training. There are on-the-job experiences that most employees receive, but the degree to which they tie back to learning depends on whether leaders know what types of experiences they should pursue.
For example, leaders should take on developmental assignments where they take control of a task force or deal with a crisis situation. It’s critical that the leader know what they wishes to get out of the on-the-job experience, Sinar said. Otherwise, it may not lead to leadership growth.
There’s no special ratio for these three learning types, he said. It depends on the business’s needs and resources and on how the leader prefers to learn.
Andie Burjek is a Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.