Can An MBA Degree Teach You To Be Successful?

Beyond the MBA HypeWe’ve changed the age old question (‘Will an MBA make me successful?’) in a subtle manner. Rather than looking at the end product itself (i.e. the degree), we’re looking at what skills and traits you are learning from the degree and taking back with you in your quest for success in the business world.

What we are about to tell you is strictly off the books (unless that book is Beyond The MBA Hype). So let’s start with some question that will hint at where we’re going with this: what makes someone a visionary entrepreneur, or a successful corporate leader, or the CEO of one of the world’s biggest hedge funds? Sure, those who routinely top Forbes’ many coveted lists are usually armed with an MBA degree but we suspect that what we so flippantly call ‘success’ cannot be attributed to those two years they spent at business school, not even the very best.

Perhaps we should take ‘success’ out of the equation and, quite simply, ask: what really makes, say, Richard Branson or Warren Buffet who they are? Sample something Buffet once said, “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”

There are many lessons to be learnt from this simple, if not clichéd, sentence, not least of all, the virtues of being patient, passionate about something and not letting your ego cloud your better judgement. The ‘X’ factor that makes Warren Buffett who he is, may simply be “wisdom”.

Every one of the iconic business leaders of our times either inherently possesses or has acquired certain qualities during their individual journeys that set them up for greatness. Heck, if you keep reading, you might even learn to ‘make your own ‘luck’. So let’s get down to it, shall we?

Does an MBA teach you these (non-business) skills for success?


1. Forgiveness

‘Forgiveness’ is not a term you usually associate with running a business or a corporation. Yet it is a quality that sets the winners apart. Experts say that learning to forgive yourself when you fail and then picking yourself up is not only an important life skill, it’s also a crucial business skill. It’s an opportunity to reinvent your approach to work, even yourself.

The ability to be resilient, to bounce back from setbacks and look for new opportunities each time you fall has more to do with self-worth than the ‘power of positive thinking’. It comes from a much deeper place.

2. Mindfulness

‘Mindfulness’ is another term some MBA aspirants may pooh-pooh but finding your ‘quiet place’ encourages creative thinking. Stop running around like a headless chicken, stop shooting off emails by the second, stop lining up a hundred meetings a day, stop multi-tasking every waking minute – just STOP!

We have come to associate with being busy with being ‘important’ and ‘productive’. Nothing could be further from the truth.Incessant activity clouds the mind and makes us lose sight of the big picture.Alternatively, being ‘still’ within brings clarity of thought, improves decision making and ups performance. Stop overdosing on activity and learn to relax.

Believe it or not but Stanford GSB offers a course on mindfulness as part of its MBA curriculum. It’s called ‘Leading With Mindfulness And Compassion’ and explores ‘the role of mindfulness, self-compassion and compassion in the workplace, and the contribution of these qualities to leadership’. How about that?

3. Detachment

Learning to detach yourself from outcomes is one of those transformative qualities that could forever change your life, not just your business. This may sound contrary to what you learn in business school but it’s not. If your MBA course teaches you to be goal-driven about your work and the tangible rewards it brings, it is also important to be detached about the consequences of your actions at a deeper level. It’s like living on two levels of existence at the same time.

Let’s put it more simply – the less desperate you are about achieving tangible goals, the more likely you are to accept any outcome. Experts say there is a powerful lesson in learning to ‘let go’. It transforms you from being a worker bee to an enlightened business leader.

4. Humility

This one’s a toughie, considering that business school is meant for ambitious people who tend to glorify ‘aggression’. And aggression is the total opposite of humility. Far from being a weakness, humility is a strength. Recognising one’s limitations implies self-awareness, an acknowledgement that you are not always right and that there are others whose voices must be heard.

Being humble means taming your ego, which could so easily trip you up if you don’t keep it in check. The ego can alienate you from colleagues, co-workers and clients;lead to disastrous business decisions; and eventually cost you everything you worked so hard to achieve.

5. Luck

Here’s what we meant when we said that you can ‘make your own luck’. It’s something that Uber honcho Matt Wyndowe said, that, “People who are lucky, make their own luck.” Wyndowe would have us believe that luck has little to do with chance. He’s right. Psychologists say that those whom we think are lucky simply see more opportunities and seize them compared to those who are bogged down by feelings of negativity.

If you constantly feel defeated or anxious about your work, tend to be critical about others rather than appreciative, and worry about achieving your targets and appraisals, you create a negative cycle of energy that literally keeps good things from happening. Experts who have studied this recommend that you train yourself to be more positive and get out of your rut, literally and figuratively. This, they say, will change your luck!

6. Visualisation

Just like you can make your own ‘luck’, you can ‘make your own future’. Whether consciously or not, the people we hold up as iconic business leaders use this quality to get where they are. It’s a technique practised by Olympic athletes and nearly not enough by MBA grads! We are referring to a process of visioning your future, where you project yourself into the future and literally see yourself in a position or role you want to achieve.

For instance, if you are an aspiring entrepreneur, visualise yourself as running the company of your dreams. If you want a particular leadership role in your firm, visualise yourself in that role and experience it at a visceral level. Experts say that by visualising yourself in the situation that you crave, you draw in people and opportunities that take you towards your goal.

7. Empathy

The most successful business people are not only visionaries, they are also great leaders. This means they have superlative people skills, tact and diplomacy. Being a people-person comes naturally to some but it’s a skill that can also be learnt. There are many components to being a people-person, such as good communication skills, being a good listener and using tact and diplomacy. At the centre of all these qualities is a singular trait – an inherent sense of empathy.

The people we admire most and aspire to be like are those who know how to navigate tough situations at work, resolve conflicts and lead teams with the least amount of friction. If you’re one of these people and, at the end of the day, your colleagues and team-mates still like you and look up to you, you can stop reading this post!

Diplomacy is more important than ever before because the workplace is now populated by millennials, who tend to be self-centred, aggressive and speak their mind without thinking twice.

8. Drive

True business leaders are always challenging themselves. Staying in your comfort zone is akin to not moving. You are always at a standstill. On the other hand, the best ideas always arise from paying attention to change and meeting it with disruptive thinking. As Matt Wyndowe says, “Without change, there is rarely opportunity.” It’s the Uber way.

So, coming back to the main question – How much of that $100,000 MBA fee will be spent on teaching you some (or any) of these aspects that will then pave the way to your blazing success?

What do you think?

Here’s a slightly different take on the same topic: ‘Is an MBA necessary for success?

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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

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