LeadershipPlus: How Warwick Business School Turns MBA Students Into Leaders
How to have good conversations and how to be an ethical leader: all skills developed on the LeadershipPlus module at Warwick Business School
According to a 2018 survey from QS, almost half of business school applicants globally pursue an MBA in order to transition into a managerial or leadership role.
But being an effective leader requires more than just the technical know-how an MBA can provide. At Warwick Business School (WBS), a compulsory module on their full-time MBA program is putting their students’ interpersonal skills to the test and teaching them how to interact better with their peers.
The LeadershipPlus module runs for the duration of the one-year full-time MBA and is made up of five dedicated workshops exploring everything from having courageous conversations to sustainability in management.
“On an MBA you learn lots of really useful skills and knowledge in areas like finance and strategy and marketing, but really effective leaders often have very good interpersonal skills as well,” explains Bob Thomson (pictured), a professor of practice at WBS and the LeadershipPlus module leader.
“A big part of it is self-awareness—if you’re going to be a leader, knowing what you stand for is very important,” he says. “It’s the ability to manage yourself, to understand what your values are, and then translate that into how you operate.”
Getting out of your comfort zone
While executives will be used to dealing with difficult situations, Bob says that the intensity of the LeadershipPlus module on the MBA at Warwick Business School is often a surprise for students.
“If you’re learning new things about yourself it might initially be uncomfortable, but hopefully in a good way!” he laughs. “If you’re an extremely rational person and your interpersonal skills are not that great, then us asking ‘How do you feel? What are your emotions?’ can be challenging.”
Ultimately, though, Bob says the module proves successful with most of their MBA candidates. At the end of the module, students are assessed in part through a personal essay about their experience of the module—”we deliberately ask them to write in the first person because it’s about their journey,” Bob explains.
“When I read their assignments, I read some really rich material about the journey they’ve been on, and what they want to do to continue their development,” he adds. “It’s about being open to the process, and saying ‘maybe I don’t know everything’.”
The LeadershipPlus module doesn’t only focus on the self, though—it also tackles global issues, and how these affect leadership, including questions of sustainability and ethics.
“We do reflect that you’re leading in a context,” Bob explains. “You wouldn’t have thought about global warming if you’d been managing 30-40 years ago, but now you have got to understand these environmental issues, as they’re going to be present for most organizations.”
From jazz singing to an MBA
Kristen Rossi (pictured) is a current student on the full-time MBA at Warwick Business School.
Having spent ten years in the performing arts industry in Asia, including as a jazz singer for hotels in Vietnam and Hong Kong, and she’s no stranger to dealing with diverse groups of people. Even so, LeadershipPlus was a daunting process.
“We just finished our last two sessions for the term—it’s been really intense!” she admits. “After every workshop, I would go home and really reflect about who I am and why I’m doing certain things, and do I want to change and how should I change.”
While Kristen is still figuring out what her post-MBA career might entail—”as much as I love singing I can do more than that,” she reflects—the skills provided on the LeadershipPlus module will prove invaluable.
“I’ve found it really helpful, for example, to think about how to have more courageous conversations, so that you can have discussions and it not end up as an argument,” Kristen says.
“It’s great if academically you can excel, but if you can’t understand other people and can’t understand yourself, how do you apply the knowledge that you’ve gained?”