We are all sometimes judged quickly and prematurely. Some of us manage to get top marks while some of us are condemned for eternity. People love to jump to conclusions about others, and you better do well at first pass. There’s even a quote about it, attributed to many great authors and artists, including Oscar Wilde. It contains a warning:
You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Research apparently shows that it takes only one second for someone you have just met to form an opinion about you. In four minutes of conversation, this person would have developed such a strong notion of who you are that it would take several meetings to change any negative image that he or she has formed about you.
Clearly, a second chance to build a favorable impression comes only rarely, if it does at all. This is probably why b-schools, along with business theories and skills, tell their students how to put their best foot forward when they still can, where it matters. After all, they are in the business of developing persuasive and effective managers and leaders of the future. They just can’t afford to churn out future “bosses” whom everyone would love to hate.
We are of course talking about personality development lessons that an MBA student receives at b-school. What inputs do b-schools give their students so that they mature to become managers who can win friends and influence people? We did some research to find out how MBA programs help with personality development. Our research question was, what are some personality aspects that a student can hope to brush up during his or her time at b-school?
How MBA programs help with personality development
We found that one of the most important benefits to a student attending an MBA program is that it imparts to him or her a fine sense of personal, social, and professional etiquette. Students pick up behavior tips for personal and social interactions not only from attending classes devoted to the topic but also from watching their more experienced colleagues conduct themselves—yes, more than a few students at top programs already have excellent etiquette, thanks to the exposure they received prior to arriving on campus.
B-schools also impart professional etiquette, which involves dressing appropriately, preparing adequately for discussions and presentations, listening carefully, asking good questions, and making the right eye contact during conversations, among other things, points out a note on the Penn State Smeal College of Business website. The etiquette of formal communications, including business email, is also taught at b-school. Professional etiquette comes in handy first during campus events such as career fairs, interviews, alumni visits, and company information sessions, and later in business situations.
The knowledge and skills learned during MBA programs provide b-school graduates with a high level of credibility in the eyes of recruiters and other representatives of organizations. Employers report that MBA employees are extremely confident and able to influence their colleagues in positive ways, says an article on thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk.
Recruiters know that candidates with MBA degrees have put in some hard work to complete their tough programs and that they have adopted discipline as a principle of life. That they opted to do an MBA itself indicates that they are ambitious, which, in turn, means they have likely set goals for their own career progress. The ambition for personal growth, more often than not, works well for their organization’s success, too. Thus, their personal and professional qualities give MBA candidates credibility as job applicants and an additional advantage at their workplaces.
Apart from people skills, MBA graduates are also likely to possess excellent work ethics and a sense of corporate responsibility, says an article on the QS Top Universities website.
B-school cohorts comprises students from various educational, professional, and cultural backgrounds. The MBA curriculum includes activities that persuade even reluctant students to start meaningful interactions with other students. This helps build their personalities by improving their communication skills and widening their horizons.
Most, if not all, MBA programs incorporate team-building and role-playing activities. Team-building inspires camaraderie among participants, who benefit from exposure to different perspectives. They learn to accommodate different viewpoints and acquire intercultural sensitivity, points out the website of the European School of Management and Technology, Berlin (ESMT Berlin), a top MBA program in Europe.
The MBA curriculum is designed to help students improve their confidence and self-esteem. The curriculum and related events and competitions push students out of their comfort zones, says an article on www.post-graduate.com. Students become more and more self-assured as they complete difficult assignments and prove their competence among their peers. Obviously, acquiring new skills and knowledge for the business world fosters self-esteem as students feel that they would be able to make effective contributions to their organizations after graduation.
The development of communication skills is a major benefit of attending an MBA program. Public-speaking workshops train students to address their classmates and professors, and make their point clearly and concisely. Class-participation exercises help students get over “stage fright.” Students who were not able to speak to even one person sitting across from them in a one-on-one interview become articulate enough to address their class or larger audiences.
During classroom presentations, students pick up various tips for good communication—such as appropriate gestures, stage presence, and voice improvement and modulation—that help bring out their best personality. Writing workshops hone students’ written communication skills so that they can create a warm thank-you note to a colleague as well as an effective email to an important business client.
Negotiation skills are also taught as part of many MBA programs. Classroom learning and exercises help students not only present strong arguments when discussing their own future with their employers but also shore up their bargaining power when dealing with future clients/vendors.
Time management, discipline
MBA programs inculcate in students a keen sense of the importance of time management and the need to maintain discipline. Students have tough preparation and practice schedules and need to complete assignments by non-negotiable deadlines. The constant battle against time arms students with time management skills and the discipline to focus on a task at hand.
They also learn to practice the art of prioritizing: many electives and events look equally interesting, particularly to new students, and they are obliged to choose some and leave out the rest as they cannot participate in all of them. This teaches them to identify the electives and events that would be most relevant to them.
A Rotman student writes in her blog that attending an MBA program makes students more mature and self-assured. This is because professors and classmates expect them to already start behaving like managers and decision-makers. So, in order to come up to their expectations, students learn to act responsibly and apply their minds in various situations.
Students are also aware of the need to demonstrate professionalism: for example, students take care to be adequately prepared for classroom presentations and abreast of developments around the world, particularly in the field of management and in their chosen sectors.
MBA programs create knowledgeable persons who are able to analyze business situations quickly and resolve crises. Case studies and internship give MBA students the skills necessary to approach challenges with equanimity.
Thanks to practical classes, they also become street smart, because, in certain situations, all the b-school knowledge and wisdom that they learned may not help them. Students become equipped to think differently and find a way to “just get the job done.”
One of the best features of MBA programs for students is perhaps the regular feedback from their classmates and professors. Critiques of presentations, for example, goad students to tone up their communication skills and research. Students also learn to accept and respond to feedback, instead of becoming overwhelmed or frustrated.
Many MBA programs include professional and personal development (PPD) modules, for which a substantial amount of time is set apart. An MBA student in Dublin, Ireland, writes in her blog on FT that Fridays at her school were devoted to PPD, with the classes being led by a career manager. The PPD planning used personality and psychometric testing tools and workshops related to teamwork and communications.
The MBA modules at the Dublin school helped students to identify their strengths, the type of people they would work best with, and the best way to manage personality types that were different from with their own. Career coaches helped students focus on their future and make practical plans for their careers and their families.
Leadership electives in MBA programs— that of the Imperial College Business School, London, for example—educate students about how to manage the challenges they would face in leading and motivating their coworkers in their future business organizations.
The electives at many schools provide an overview of diagnostic tools that can evaluate interpersonal and teamwork skills, according to a feature on the Imperial School’s website. Students can also analyze their own personality traits and find out how they are likely to respond to business situations.
The flair and competence that the b-school experience brings often make an MBA “the best person, or personality, for the job.”