Futureproofing MBA Graduates By Dr Penny Law, Regenesys Dean and Director

Why would a global company fire top MBA graduates who come from some of the most prestigious international business schools? According to a panellist at Leaderex 2017 in Johannesburg in early September, it’s because they weren’t equipped for the workplace. They weren’t adequately prepared to operate in a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (Vuca) world.

Former business giants that once monopolised the market crumbled because they failed to change. Think BlackBerry, Polaroid and Kodak. Businesses that ignore disruptive technologies emerging from the fourth industrial revolution will, as author Ankush Chopra succinctly argues, fall prey to the “dark side of innovation”.

Similarly, leaders and employees who fail to embrace the technological transition will become redundant. Being relevant in the fourth industrial revolution requires some new skills but, more importantly, also requires replacing traditional linear modes of thinking with vision, understanding, clarity and agility to navigate the Vuca environment.

What are the implications for business schools? How can we develop MBA graduates so they contribute to, and harness, emerging realities in ways that will take their companies to the next level? Regenesys Business School believes the following five perspectives will futureproof MBA graduates.

1: No-box thinking
Thinking “outside the box” still involves thoughts confined to a box. This type of thinking might not lend itself to truly radical and fresh ideas. Some of the most innovative ideas — such as the iPhone — applied “no-box thinking”, which involves connecting or finding patterns in seemingly disconnected ideas, nurturing curiosity and allowing the imagination to run wild. Supposedly impossible ideas become a reality because this perspective sees no barriers, only possibilities.

2: “Glocal” cognisance
Leaders need to be aware of global trends, best and next practice, and challenges. However, blanket application of global practices might not be appropriate for a local context or a local company. Instead, leaders need to have global awareness and ensure local relevance by cultivating a “think-global-and-act-local” mindset. Leaders need to extract relevant lessons from global experiences and translate them to ensure appropriate applicability within a local context. The result is “glocally” cognisant leaders who are culturally intelligent and able to interact with multiple cultures.

3: Emotional and spiritual intelligence
In a world of virtual collaboration, cognitive load management and “trans-disciplinarity”, mental intelligence is a necessary but insufficient condition for managerial and leadership success. Our Vuca environment requires the application of emotional and spiritual intelligence to establish co-operative and performance-driven workplace relationships based on trust, respect and effective communication. Leaders who access their spiritual intelligence are directed by a higher purpose, positive values, authenticity and self-awareness. They are comfortable with ambiguity because they see the bigger picture, learn from and rise above adversity, and proactively solve complex, unfamiliar problems without placing blame.
In addition, because emotional and spiritual intelligences increase employee engagement, staff retention and organisational performance, they use these intelligences to build their organisations as well as a wider network of alliances.

4: Strength multipliers
Failing businesses are often characterised by engaging multiple people but not multiple strengths. Managers don’t always know how to extract the best from employees effectively. Instead, they follow the traditional method of focusing on weaknesses, and delegate tasks that aren’t necessarily compatible with the delegate’s strengths. In accordance with the principle of focusing on the critical few, not on the insignificant many, effective managers and leaders must recognise that every employee offers unique contributions. Harnessing everyone’s strengths creates a multiplier effect that will translate into improved organisational performance and employee engagement.

5: Maker instinct
More wicked challenges have begun to crop up in our Vuca world, many without precedent. Tried-and-tested solutions work with familiar problems but are often not applicable to new problems. A maker instinct is required to generate solutions to these unfamiliar problems. Bob Johansen, a distinguished fellow at Silicon Valley’s Institute for the Future, regards this as a “basic skill to make and remake organisations”. Among other things, makers flip dilemmas to solve them, and refuse to be forced into premature choices.

Our world needs leaders who are, in Johansen’s words, “comfortable with being uncomfortable, but not passive”. They need to embrace uncertainty but also nurture their assets for the common good while pursuing profit.

These are no doubt the kind of leaders the global company was hoping its MBA intake would turn into, but did not find among its recruits. And so these are the attitudes and attributes business schools must inculcate in the coming generation of graduates.

As published by the Financial Mail, 28 September 2017

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