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Managers as students

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By Margaret Adolphus

Preparing yourself for the MBA

There was a time when the Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduate was caricatured as long on theory but short on practical know-how. Now however, the majority of students – up to 80 per cent on one estimate (Badenhausen and Kump, 2005) – are on part-time, executive or distance learning courses, which means that they are likely to be both studying management and living it on a day-to-day basis.

No one undertakes MBA study lightly and you will probably be fairly clear what motivates you. For many, it's a matter of career progression – a way of getting a good general business education and a more strategic focus that will enable you to be seen as someone who can take on more senior responsibility. For others, the need may be to sharpen existing skills, to extend one's world view and to avoid being pigeonholed in a particular function.

Whatever your motivation, it's important to reflect on the range of management competences an MBA can help develop, for example:

  • Numerical and analytic skills.
  • Written and oral communication.
  • Teamwork, and learning to manage conflict and value diversity.
  • Providing and receiving constructive feedback.
  • Networking.
  • Strategic thinking.
  • Project and conflict management.
  • Selecting relevant and critical information from research.

In other words, it's not just about theory and technique, but about developing yourself as a person.

It's also important to enlist the help of your organization – can they sponsor you, can they offer study leave (the drawback here is that you may be tied to your organization for the duration of your studies)?

There are also other more informal ways they can support you, for example:

  • You will have development needs arising from your studies, what cooperation can you get from your workplace? Will you be able to go and talk to the functional manager of another part of the organization when you study a module for which you have no practical experience? Will your manager be supportive, and give you time to discuss your new ideas and their application? How about your subordinates – can you try out new ideas on them? Mentors can be invaluable in that they provide senior level expertise, but outside the "line" relationship – can such be provided?
  • Will your workplace understand the commitment you have undertaken, and ensure a manageable workload, even if it doesn't provide formal study leave? However you also need to develop the necessary assertiveness skills to fend off additional work – can it be delegated? Is the deadline negotiable?