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Why leaders must learn to scan the competitive horizon.

Why leaders must learn to scan the competitive horizon

All managers worth their salt know what is happening within their organizations but few have the skills needed to spot, and react to, the dangers posed by competitor firms.

Why, then, do most management-training programs continue to focus narrowly on the organization's internal policies and procedures when a well-trained eye on what competitors and doing would be so much more useful?

One reason may be that it is so much easier for trainers to describe the relatively stable status quo within the firm than to consider a number of amorphous threats posed by outsiders. Another may be that internal trainers simply lack the knowledge and experience to talk more widely about competitive threats and sensible responses.

In the November 2012 issue of Training Journal, Mark Chussil and Ben Gilad suggest that managers need to be taught how to identify patterns that might suggest that the competitive horizon is changing. Leaders also need the skills to look at their organizations' own strategy and identify how other organizations will react if it is successful. Finally, senior executives must be able to develop manoeuvrability so that their organizations can respond to new sources of competition.

Good leaders also need another set of skills to help them to manage themselves. These include self-awareness, integrity, self-confidence, tolerance and the ability to communicate effectively.

In the same issue of Training Journal, Guy Millar explains how senior executives with these skills are better able to put their organizations' values into action and transform them into a true expression of company culture. This, says the author, directly influences organizational performance.

So what of the tried and trusted MBA? How many of these skills does it impart to existing and would-be managers? The answer, it seems, is quite a lot.

In the October 2012 issue of Management Today, Jeremy Hazlehurst points out that, although the MBA is no longer a fast-track to senior management and career success, it is attracting increasing numbers of students who simply wish to improve their self-knowledge.

Few MBAs do this better than the one at IMD, in Geneva, Switzerland. Its students have the chance of sessions with a psychologist as an integral part of the course. These sessions - which, although optional, are taken up by most students - can sometimes prove to be life-changing.

Take the case of Jesper Hornberg. Jeremy Hazlehurst describes how he spurned 'a career in a swanky office in a shiny skyscraper' to set up a non-governmental organization named Givewatts, which is trying to improve the quality of interior lighting in third-world countries by reducing dependence on kerosene lamps.

Another example is Pankaj Arora. Jeremy Hazlehurst explains that he was employed in consulting in the US before doing his MBA at Cranfield Business School, UK. Here he worked on a business plan for a social enterprise to provide preventive health care in India. He now plans to work in his home country in social entrepreneurship.

In helping tomorrow's leaders to decide who they are and what they wish to achieve, today's MBA is providing a valuable social service that stretches well beyond its original aim of imparting business skills to up-and-coming managers.