Developing Leaders for the Future

bschoolHarvard Business Review blogger, Jack Zenger, recently wrote “we wait too long to train our leaders.” In his post Zenger points out the discrepancy between when individuals first take on leadership roles and when they first receive leadership training. When looking at data from over 17,000 leaders across the globe, the average age an individual became a leader was 30, yet the average age for entering leadership training was 42. Why does this gap exist?

Some critics have pointed the finger at business schools, claiming they focus on developing “hard” business skills while doing little to develop their graduates’ “soft” leadership skills. These critics assert that new managers use their MBA skills marginally or not at all in their first management assignments. As such, MBA program administrators and faculty can no longer assume that graduates will successfully motivate and lead people in the business world without first developing these skills. In fact, companies prefer to recruit graduates who have been exposed to soft skill leadership development while still in school.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) concluded that business schools could enhance their relevancy by devoting more attention to soft skill competencies and recently developed Reflect, an online development tool aimed at addressing this gap. Also, MBA programs have started implementing leadership development courses into their curriculums. Several of U.S. News’s top ranked MBA programs describe their leadership development courses on their websites to attract prospective students. Business schools appear to be working to close the gap by providing their students with leadership training early in their careers.

Interestingly, a similar trend may be happening in the leadership ranks within universities themselves. A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted Lucy Apthorp Leske, co-director of the education and not-for-profit practice at Witt/Kieffer, as saying, “There has been a real shift to the professionalization of higher education administration.” She explained that universities are putting more weight on factors like business sense and creative problem-solving rather than just research prowess for their leaders.

So while Zenger has a point, universities seem to be addressing this gap in more ways than one, working to equip leaders with the skills they need to be successful in the future.