10 Skills An MBA Can Teach You Beyond The Subject Matter
Simple life lessons and skills your curriculum won’t teach you!
If you are now like I was in my twenties, you’ve convinced yourself that an MBA is only meant for academics or high-ranking, high-powered professionals looking to dominate the corporate world. WRONG!!! In fact, a comprehensive MBA program almost guarantees that you won’t progress solely on your academic knowledge. Getting through an MBA requires (some) academic KNOWLEDGE as well as real-life, boots-on-the-ground, practical EXPERIENCE.
As you read along, the biggest confusion you may have is WHY. Why do I need an MBA to learn such simple skills? Why should I invest so much time, effort and money into learning these skills? Why did I take so long to realise these skills were important? Why isn’t this common sense? Because common sense is not as common as you think! Not everyone progresses at the same pace. Humans accumulate knowledge and experiences at different stages in life due to a variety of reasons — upbringing, preconceived notions, stereotypes, levels of education, access to education, access to information, learning disabilities etc. So, it doesn’t matter if you learn these skills early or later on life; just as long as you learn them and it helps you grow.
I wouldn’t generally consider myself undisciplined, but I am a master procrastinator and certainly chose the worst time to attempt an MBA. I had a full-time job, a family to provide for and a hurricane of a toddler to raise alongside my wife. My situation forced me to manage my time more efficiently. Research articles, productivity hacks and YouTube gurus will tell you to “set deadlines”, “prioritise”, “commit”, “wake up early” etc, but after days of anxiety and multiple panic attacks I realised the solution to the problem was very simple — I did what worked best for me. Over the years, I found that I’m more productive and more focussed when in complete silence (hard to imagine with a toddler causing mayhem day and night). I started by allocating 5 am to 6 am and 10 pm to 11 pm as my daily study hours, which is when our daughter is asleep and the house is quiet. The next step was to stop working late and bring work home. To achieve this, I clocked out daily at 6 pm, deleted the work email address from my phone to avoid seeing constant popup notifications and unread email counts. Also, I never missed a lecture. Apart from a stellar attendance record, it helped me be mentally present, absorb important content, prevented me from wasting time hunting down notes and spending hours online trying to make sense of a missed lecture. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed my breaks. I used this time to spend with my daughter, cook a meal, check my emails, consume content, go to the gym etc. If you take away one learning out of this, let it be that discipline is doing what works best for you.
2. Working with difficult people
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, some people are more gifted at this than others. A professional classroom environment is similar to any work environment; you have the talkers, the doers, the shammers and the disruptors. However, in a professional classroom or work environment, you can’t ignore them or complain about them to your teacher like you would’ve done back in school. You have to find the right balance between working with people and keeping everyone in check. Hold the talkers accountable, encourage and support the doers, call out the shammers and dropkick the disruptors. You can be considerate of the shammers and disruptors to a certain extent, but at some point, you have to cut your losses and let go. Otherwise, the process becomes inefficient and undeserved candidates profit from your good work. If you take away one learning out of this, let it be that working with difficult people is an important skill but it doesn’t always mean giving in.
3. Continuous learning
The only constant is change. So, if the pace of life is constantly changing and your learning is stagnant, you die! I am a curious person by nature, and it bothers me if I don’t know something. I spend my days anxious that I haven’t read enough, don’t know enough, haven’t watched enough documentaries etc. If you’re like me, then an MBA is perfect for you because an MBA is about teaching yourself; that’s why you say you’re “reading for an MBA” and not “studying for an MBA”. But learning shouldn’t stop once the coursework is done. It should be something you carry with you for life because the pace of life is so fast that what you learn in the morning is irrelevant by night. And learning doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to subscribe to the Harvard Business Review or the New York Times or attend expensive seminars or buy expensive business books. Starting is as simple as talking to people; people you consider knowledgeable on the subjects you’re passionate about, follow important Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, join free Facebook and LinkedIn groups, watch (at least) three national and three international news channels, read a few newspapers (to get different perspectives), read free articles online, YouTube carries hundreds of documentaries and if you already have a Netflix subscription, there are hundreds of documentaries and shows available. If you take one learning out of this, let it be that you never stop learning and you stop making excuses to not learn about the things you like.
Being humble is an important part of learning and growing as a person. Ever heard the idiom “Empty vessels make the most noise”? It’s a proverb that means that those with the least talent and knowledge usually speak the most, speak the loudest, and create the most fuss. Humility is a byproduct of knowledge and a thirst for continuous learning. In the classroom as well as in the workplace, the best way to learn is by humbling yourself to allow people to teach you. And I don’t mean learning only from your boss or people above you; you can learn from literally ANYONE. Example — I work in tourism and I was passionate about learning Spanish. The traditional route would’ve been to enrol in a course and learn. But, what I had in abundance was access to Spanish speaking tour guides who I can practise my language skills with, while I learned the fundamentals through YouTube and free apps like Duolingo. Now, if I wasn’t humble enough to ask for help and avoided this option just because they worked for me, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn. And while I would’ve spent thousands on courses, this learning was FREE. If you take one learning out of this, let it be that you always be humble, because knowledge can come from the most unexpected sources.
As I progressed through the program, it gave me a wider perspective of life and empathy for others. In the work environment, we’re all familiar with conflicts between Sales and Finance, Sales and Marketing and the Sales and Audit teams. It’s not because we hate them, it’s just that we don’t understand their job role or contribution to the company. A comprehensive MBA program teaches you about different aspects of a business, and the more insight you get, the more perspective you gain, and the more perspective you gain, the more empathetic you are towards another’s job role. It allows you to get what you want while being considerate of others. If you take one learning out of this, let it be that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”, meaning that it’s much easier to get what you want by being empathetic and polite rather than by being inconsiderate and insolent.
The most obvious byproduct of a professional course; it allows you to meet people from every industry and all walks of life. Most of us see networking as a way to trade favours in the long run. However, we can also see it as an opportunity to learn from people’s experience. Of course, having a wide network is beneficial for future job prospects, collaborations, partnerships etc, but you can also learn from their personal experience. If you take one learning out of this, let it be that you use your network for self-growth and for the growth of others.
7. Learning to say “No”
One of the most important skills in being efficient. For example, learn to say no to unrealistic targets, unachievable deadlines, unnecessary meetings, office politics, waste and whatever makes you uncomfortable or affects your personal wellbeing. We all live in a world where our jobs and its requirements tend to take over our lives and we’re made to feel like we owe our employers everything. But as much as you earn, learn and grow with your employer, they too profit from your skills and expertise. Employment is a two-way street and a relationship that must be based on mutual respect and should be mutually beneficial. This is a skill that can be practised in your personal life as well. If you take one learning our of this, let it be that NOBODY will ever think bad of you for saying no to whatever makes you uncomfortable. If they do, it’s a selfish intention and not a mutual relationship; a master-slave attitude that shouldn’t be tolerated.
Some people grow up being told that the only way to be something in life, is to have an education. While this is true to a certain extent, it’s not the complete truth. Your value as a person cannot be tied down to a piece of cardboard or a qualification. You may think that your value increases the higher you climb up the educational ladder, but this can’t be further away from the truth. Actually, the higher you climb, the more you realise how much you don’t know and how much more you have to learn. It’s a humbling experience. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, to really get through life, you require Knowledge AND Experience. If you take one learning our of this, let it be that you are worthy no matter what a piece of paper tells you. Everyone can add value in some way, shape or form.
9. Maintaining a professional identity
I never bothered to manage a professional persona during my early years in the corporate world. I was young, social, and building a personal brand was never really on my priority list. Honestly — how many times have you interviewed someone and then referred to their LinkedIn or Facebook page to gauge if they were the right fit? This is why it’s important to maintain an accurate online persona; for an employer to gauge if you are the right fit, as well as for you to understand if you’re gauged by the right employer. You also have to use the appropriate medium for your purpose. For example, it’s not appropriate to post pictures of you and your mates at the pub on LinkedIn — it’s a platform for professionals. Again, this comes with knowledge and experience. We live in a digital world, and at some point, people will find the “real you”. If you take one learning our of this, I advise you to be authentic. You’re not for everyone and that’s okay; just as long as you’re happy with yourself and happy with the work you do.
10. Work-Health balance
Work-Life balance is (such) an outdated concept. With digitalisation, work is a part of your daily life and follows you wherever you go. It's not as easy to switch off no matter how much you try. On vacation? You will always take a peek at your email inbox. Taking a personal day? You will always answer a work call and reply to a worktext. In the ICU, dying? You will call the office to inform them that you’re dying and ensure to handover your work to the next employee. What’s important is to make health a part of your life as well; so that you balance Life, Health and Work together. A healthy body keeps you fit for daily life as well as keep your mind present and focussed for work. If you take one learning our of this, let it be that health is truly wealth. You can work your whole life to build an empire and not have your health to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
You don’t really need an MBA to learn any of these skills, but the best way I can describe an MBA experience is by thinking of it as a culmination of your life’s knowledge and experience, and to look at it as an application of your knowledge and experience, than a course of study.