What business schools don’t teach you about leadership

In the business world, companies worry that graduates are leaving business school without the full complement of workplace skills. That’s about to change.

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For those who value soft skills in the workplace, the 21st Century Leaders report makes for eye-opening reading. It has found that while students are leaving business schools with plenty of nous about the theory of business many firms are doubtful of their ability to function fully in the workplace. In general, companies place a higher priority on personal skills than a grasp of academic stuff. They expect business schools to develop graduates with a business-ready mindset. Yet 65% of companies claim that UK graduates and new managers lack the interpersonal skills needed to manage others.

CMI, which produced the report in collaboration with the Association of Business Schools and the Quality Assurance Agency, is working with businesses and academia to identify the key skills graduates need to bridge the chasm between academic and business life. A large part of this can be covered by work experience and sandwich courses, but the report’s authors recommend that business schools pick up some of the slack, too.

So what are companies looking for in graduates and new managers?

Speaking up

How to listen and communicate appropriately is a core management skill, and those who get it wrong often pay the price with demotivated colleagues, delayed projects and even upset clients. So it is little wonder that 67% of companies say that communication is the key skill they look for when recruiting new managers and graduates. A specific bugbear is the inability to have difficult conversations about performance. The increasing needs in the business community to communicate across cultures – either with overseas clients or colleagues – pushes the issue further. Businesses still feel that schools should do more around communication to improve the future international competitiveness of UK companies.

The only way is ethics

And beyond communication? Organisations say the second most important quality they desire in new managers – and by implication, graduates – is a fine-tuned sense of honesty and ethics. Some 55% of companies flagged up the issue, and employers on the whole want business schools to stress the importance of both ethical work practices and sustainability. Professional bodies like CMI already play an important role in spreading the word about ethics and good management in general, but usually among those already in the workplace. But now business schools are adapting and honing their courses to ensure that high ethical standards are impressed upon their graduates. These courses are perfectly complemented by professional accreditations that place a premium on ethical standards.

Small talk

While business schools excel at teaching theory pertinent to FTSE 100 companies, little is taught with respect to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). And given the prevalence of SMEs in the UK – some 4.9m companies at last count – this is a significant issue. The report found that, owing to their small sizes, SMEs typically seek to recruit candidates who are well-rounded and flexible, and who possess a set of skills that can be nurtured through in-house training. They must juggle process with strategy, and schools should do more to provide graduates with the tools to do this, such as commercial awareness, creativity and numeracy.

CMI works closely with business schools to improve the skills of graduates and new managers, by accrediting degree courses and by giving students and alumni the chance to achieve Chartered Manager status. Uniquely offered by CMI, Chartered Manager isn’t only available through business schools: any employer can build Chartered Manager into their management development, and it’s also an ideal option for managers looking to take the next step in their personal career development.

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