Leadership Development Programs for MBAs: Top 3, Curriculum, Experiential Learning and Clubs to Improve your Leadership Skills

Leadership skills can be developed, but there are limitations. Our upbringing and surrounding influences set boundaries on our leadership development skills. Still, top MBA programs boast itself as influential in developing and nurturing a whole generation of leaders. Before going into MBA programs with a focus on leadership development, let us evaluate the defining characteristics of a leader.

A leader possesses three traits – visionary, inspiring and resource efficient. The first and most important quality in a leader is the ability to sell a vision. It need not be tangible outputs but can be a reality that is far-fetched now. Leaders have the ability to inspire the team to achieve the vision. Leaders are also excellent talent scouts. They are good at spotting task specific talents from a crowded job market.

A leader from an MBA point of view requires skills in planning, motivation and recruitment. Motivation is more of a science than a skill and experts argue that motivating a team is influenced a lot by the personality of the leader. But planning and ability to spot talents can be learned.  From a recruiter’s point of view, leaders bring initiative, drive to the organization, and are a positive influence on not just profits, but the work environments itself. Here are the world’s best leadership development programs at top Business Schools.

1) Harvard Business School - The Leadership Initiative

Harvard's top notch leadership program aims at educating leaders who can then go on to change the world. Generations of HBS alumni have defined business practices in different industries and various regions of the world. HBS' leadership initiative starts right with the curriculum. Every aspect, including case studies, field-based learning and Immersion Programs are designed to hone leadership skills in a rapidly evolving world. The curriculum also strives to impart real-life leadership lessons, rather than just book based exercises.

As part of the first year, required curriculum, students have to participate in two courses: Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD), and Leadership and Corporate Accountability. The former stresses on the human aspect of the enterprise that help MBA graduates become effective leaders. The latter deals with the complex responsibilities regarding the ethical, legal, social and economic decisions that face leaders today. It equips students with managerial and governance systems that can promote responsible behavior by employees, and describes the personal traits that critically determine whether the leadership will be respected and is effective.

The second year, elective curriculum builds more leadership skills with subjects like Authentic Leadership Development, The Board of Directors and Corporate Governance, Great Business Leaders-The Importance of Contextual Intelligence, Leading Innovative Ventures, Leading Professional Service Firms, Managing Human Capital, Power & Influence and Leading and Governing High Performing Nonprofit Organizations.

Further leadership and values are inculcated with the Community Values Program, with around 20 Leadership & Values Committee student representatives promoting ethical decision making across the campus. The process is aided by Alumni Speaker Series, Distinguished Speaker Series and Topical Roundtable Discussions on how to inculcate values into business decision making.    

Conferences and seminars based on leadership are also conducted, with past topics including Values and Leadership Education, Alternative Business Models for Professional Service Firms Colloquium and How Can Leadership Be Taught. HBS Working Knowledge regularly publishes articles on Leadership, like ‘Teaming in the Twenty-First Century, Should Managers Bother Listening to Predictions?’ and ‘No Margin, No Mission - A Field Experiment on Incentives for Pro-Social Tasks.’ In fact, two of 2012's 10 most popular articles were HBS Cases: Sir Alex Ferguson--Managing Manchester United and The Power of Conversational Leadership. 

2) Haas Business School - Leadership Development Series

Berkeley's Haas Business School offers an MBA Leadership Development Series, which is a set of workshops that are not-for-credit. They are meant to develop well-rounded MBA graduates with top-class leadership skills, through a gamut of experiential learning offerings. Students can take advantage of a vast array of executive training options based on three core concepts - Self, Team, and Organization.

The Self component covers three topics - Building the Brand Called YOU, Becoming the Emotionally Intelligent Leader and Confidence & Leadership. Workshops include Embracing Ambiguity, Harnessing Your Full Potential, Heavy Hitter Sales, Leadership Presence and Stand Out: Build Your Brand. The Team component deals with Leading High Performance Teams and Working Cross-Functionality. Related workshops include Coaching for Optimal Performance, Working Cross Functionally, Building High-Performing Teams:  What Great Leaders Know and Do, Taking Disciplinary Action and Leading Learning Teams. The final Organization component tackles the subjects of Building Winning Teams and Power & Influence. Leading Change, Decision Making, Understanding organizations & maximizing effectiveness, and Thinking across the organization are some of the topics that the workshops cover.

At Haas, the culture itself fosters innovative leadership. It is based on four tenets, Question the Status Quo - taking intelligent risks and supporting bold ideas, Confidence without Attitude - taking decisions on evidence, and acting without arrogance, Students Always - for lifelong learning and Beyond Yourself - ethical and responsible leadership. These defining principles are a vital part of the admissions processes and are infused into the curriculum. Here, students are taught to Frame Problems correctly, Experiment to Learn, Navigate Uncertainty with innovative management and to Influence Beyond Authority, where authority is distributed in an organization.

Haas builds on the above process with a series of experiential options that include Haas@Work, Social Sector Solutions, Clean Tech to Market, Corporate Sustainability, Managing New Product Development, The Haas Investment Fund and The Haas Socially Responsible Investment Fund. What's more, 7 of the 12 required core courses are based on leadership - Data and Decisions, Economics for Business Decision Making (Microeconomics), Leading People, Problem Finding - Problem Solving, Leadership Communications, Strategic Leadership, and Ethics & Responsibility in Business.

3) Tuck - Cohen Leadership Development Program & Center for Leadership

Leadership development is a central feature at Tuck and is integrated into the curriculum, study groups, student activities and clubs. The Cohen Leadership Development Program fills students with the ability to inspire those around them, so that they achieve great heights. The program is woven into the first year curriculum, with special emphasis in the Leading Organizations course. Every student gains from individual coaching that will develop unique leadership traits. The program also provides self-assessment, peer reviews, setting goals, creating and implementing personal leadership development plans and the leadership speaker series. Each 1st-year student must do the Personal Leadership course, which helps them evaluate how they see themselves, as opposed to how others see them.

The core curriculum includes courses like Analysis for General Managers, Decision Science, Global Economics for Managers, Leading Individuals & Teams, Leading Organizations, Management Communication, Managerial Economics, Personal Leadership and Statistics For Managers. The elective curriculum further develops leadership skills with topics like Comparative Models of Leadership, Corporate Communication, Innovation Execution, Leadership out Of the Box, Management of Disasters and Power & Influence.

Tuck's Center for Leadership drives the leadership initiatives at the school, based on three aims. First is to conduct leadership development activities that accelerate the time for students to assume leadership positions in business. The second is to nurture world class research on leadership. And finally, it is to be the platform for business leaders and research scholars to interact and further the understanding of leadership. Students also participate in a set of workshops that give practice in important leadership behaviors. Leadership labs are also held to guide students in achieving personal development objectives.

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