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A Leadership Quest for MBAs

By Conrad Viedge – 

As a business school, our aim is to improve the prospects of our students. One means of doing so is to help them become great business leaders. There can be no doubt that leaders of organisations have an incredible influence on both the results of organisations and the well-being of the employees of the organisation.

Business leadership is one of the topics that has more written about it than virtually any other topic yet there is very little in the way of simple advice to aspirant leaders on what they should do to lead effectively. We, at the Wits Business School, face the challenge of how we help our bright and ambitious MBA students to become the best leaders they are capable of becoming. We soon realised that it was not going to happen through nine weeks of lectures on leadership. Our approach was to adopt an independent study project that would challenge each student to discover the leader they want to become and to then set in place a roadmap of how to become this leader; this we entitle the Leadership Quest.

The starting point of the Quest is to search the established literature for insights into a leadership approach which resonates with the individual’s own values and beliefs. In this sense, the student is challenged to conceptualise successful leadership in their image drawing on their self-insight and of course the established wisdom in the literature; this means that students may come to different conclusions regarding the leader they want to become. This stage of the LQ answers one of the five questions put forward by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (2001) in their article on Primal Leadership, namely “Who do I want to be?”.

Head, Heart and Hands
A further aid to structuring an approach to leadership is the Head, Heart, and Hands model which requires the leader to categorise their ideal leader in terms of Head, the direction that one must set for one’s followers, providing clarity of purpose for everyone and also setting performance expectations; this is the thinking component of leadership.

Heart, simply put, is what the leader must do to keep people on their side and willing to perform; this touches on the field of employee engagement.

Hands: how to get followers to deliver on time and up to standard. At the macro level this is about culture and systems and at the micro level it is about setting deadlines, follow-up and feedback.

This simple categorisation assists leaders to think through how they can balance these three elements to have willing followers who produce stunning results. It happens that some leaders are brilliant at working out how to win in the marketplace (Head) but lack the capacity to liberate the potential of people so that they deliver willingly and effectively (Heart) on the recipe for making money.

The second stage of Leadership Quest is to respond to the question “Who am I now?”. The answer to this question can only be achieved with good self-awareness. Here the students are encouraged to reflect and use the feedback received either formally at work or informally from their colleagues to form a realistic view of who they are, and what are their strengths, weaknesses and aspirations.

With these two stages in place it is logical to move then to the next stage “How do I get from here to there?”. Once again the students are challenged to search the internet and other resources to find answers to this, including the thorny question of how do I change my habits: this will take them on a journey where they will discover a wealth of literature on the fallacy of willpower, models of intentional change and relapse prevention. The acid test for students in this section is whether their roadmap is practical and believable.

The last two stages of the Quest are “Who can help me?” and “How do I make it stick?”. All too often personal change is short-lived. Therefore, these final steps are vital to ensure that the change that is initiated is embedded and becomes a way of life.

One student asked “Why should we do this exercise?”. The answer must be that if you are not going to question yourself about how you become a great leader when you are studying towards an MBA, when will you ever do it? The MBA has been described as a pressure cooker and this stimulating, pressured environment is an ideal setting for students to step back and ask themselves what really matters and what my contribution should be?

We believe that the Leadership Quest is one of our integrating processes that assists students to pull together all the new knowledge they have gained and to then seek solutions in their quest to become great, ethical and worthwhile business leaders. A noble quest, indeed.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2001). Primal leadership: The hidden driver of great performance. Harvard Business Review, 79(11), 42-53.
Conrad Viedge is the MBA Director, at the Wits Business School.

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