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Steering your way to corporate leadership
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Posted by : Mangesh   Jan 28 2008
The author lists certain must have skills that MBAs need to develop to win the corporate race. These skills have helped industry captains and leaders reach where they are today.
One of my articles was recently published in the Hindu Business Line. It is at this link.

Ask any budding graduate today about the need for an MBA to boost his career graph, and the answer will probably be a resounding YES. Given the booming salary levels and promising career path offered, an MBA degree is today the master key to corporate success.

But is that all one needs to have? Will just that degree drive you home to corporate leadership? Undoubtedly, the answer is a resounding NO. Let us look at certain must-haves that have helped industry captains and leaders become what they have. For a green MBA, these are the radii of the steering wheel which will, in all probability, help her win the corporate race.

Business expertise
The strongest driving factor which the B-school grad needs to cultivate is expertise in the company’s business areas. Not surprisingly, having a complete grasp on business verticals is rated as one of the top qualities of a successful CEO. This is primarily the reason why most potential leaders are honed across departments and geographies to enable them to master the various business functions. Hence, B-school grads should strive to attain expertise in as many business functions as possible. Easier said than done, one has to demonstrate to their seniors a keen sense of exploring new areas and creativity to correlate the different functions.

Too often, mid-way in their career, B-school grads create a false sense of comfort around themselves by managing (or heading) the same business vertical. On the other hand, a select few look out for bigger roles and follow the business dynamics in other verticals as well. Top management is, in turn, on the look out for these few.

Commercial understanding and business expertise go hand in hand. So, B-school grads should focus on profitability and take decisions that are “ROE- accretive”. While you may not have to (as yet) report such numbers to the analyst community, you should develop such an attitude right at the beginning of one’s career.

Managing HR - Human Relationships
Note the change in the terminology — not just managing humans as a resource but as relationships. Though subtle in meaning, the change in attitude is not so. As the B-school grad scales the corporate ladder, one realises that the steps of this corporate ladder are nothing but human relationships. Stronger the steps, easier it is to scale the ladder. In adverse situations, strong steps help one to “hold on” to one’s shirt (and may be your job too!). Of course, the opposite is also possible.

Right from the beginning of their careers, B-school grads should invest in building such HR steps. Not just with colleagues in their business vertical, but also the ones you expect to head one day. With the constant churn in the business scenario and managerial talent pool, you never know when, with whom and where your paths will cross.

Another important reason why managing HR has become paramount is that in the talent-driven economy, the CEO’s perception of being a people’s leader is a key differentiator. With higher compensation packages and creamy job profiles loosing their “brand equity,” a talented workforce will soon start looking up to the business leader’s softer skills – for e.g., does she regard her team members/colleagues as a resource or as a relationship?

Developing a long-term vision
The third important quality the B-school grad will do well to cultivate is to develop a long-term vision — not only for the company but also for industry, society and the nation. CEOs and business leaders, after a certain stage, become the key influencers not just inside the company but outside it. Their decisions have a long-standing effect on the company as well as the industry and the society in general. In management jargon, this implies becoming more CSR (corporate social responsibility) compliant.

While I have tried to elaborate on the three must-haves, — radii of the steering wheel, these qualities are not by any means exhaustive. The underlying theme remains that corporate leadership needs to be developed throughout the B-school grad’s career. It is not that one first becomes a CEO and then these qualities follow. It is, in fact, the other way round. Moreover, you cannot afford to ignore one radius at the cost of the other. Absence of any of the radii will probably end up in a bumpy drive!

(The writer is an alumnus of VJTI and NMIMS, Mumbai.The views expressed here are personal.) ,