5 Key Skills You Learn At Top MBA Programs.

People often wonder what are the key lessons that students from top MBA programs like Harvard, INSEAD, and Stanford learn.

Peter Robinson, a Stanford MBA graduate, has written a book named “Snapshots from Hell”. One very fascinating story from that book encapsulates what it is like to study in a top tier business school. It goes like this- 

A Stanford Professor said that there can be only 2 types of students in a Stanford MBA classroom. 

Type A- They do all the homework, assignments and are extremely diligent.

Type B- They do not come to class, and spend all their time on the golf course hitting golf balls.

But they both graduate with similar types of jobs.

This happens because a top tier MBA program gives you two things.

  1. An excellent brand value.
  2. It allows you to learn skills outside the classroom as well.

We’re slowly moving towards a world where what we learn outside the classroom holds ten times more significance than what we learn inside the classroom.

In this short read, you will be acquainted with five specific skills that one cultivates in these top MBA programs.

These are skills you absolutely have to learn if you want to create opportunities for yourself, do well in your career and make money. 

You will also find links to relevant resources you can refer to, to develop the discussed skills. 🙂

Effective communication

Effective communication does NOT mean that your English should be extremely good. 

It simply means that if I say 10 things to you, you should at least be able to understand 9 things.

Now, what are some tips you can follow to improve your communication skills?

The #1 lesson that I learnt at INSEAD, from my Communications Professor, who was an ex-BBC journalist, was-

Always use structures while communicating.

Make sure what you say is coherent and has a flow. For example, while introducing yourself, begin from start to end. (Which city did you grow up in?, college?, work experience?).

The #2 lesson was- Control the pace at which you speak. 

Indians and Chinese tend to talk very fast. When you talk to people from all over the globe, differences in accents can cause a communication gap. An Italian, Portuguese or a Spanish person might not be able to catch a lot of information you’re giving them if you talk in a brisk tone.

And lastly, #3 lesson is- build confidence. Put yourself into unfamiliar situations. Example- Go and talk on a stage. A high stress environment like this will challenge you to improve your communication skills.

Here is a link to my mini-course on effective communication- 

  1. Building a Network 

Ever since Zoom has come into the picture, post pandemic, it has become super easy to network with people.

In-person meets have been replaced by video chats. Hence, it has become all the more important to become a good net-worker. 

If you don’t network, an average net-worker can easily get 20-30 meetings in a month, and you will lose out in a big way.

But how can one you improve your networking skills?

Here are some key points you should remember when you want to connect with a person-

Build a relationship with that person. Now, how to do that? 

You must focus on creating a value-add approach.

  • If the person is active on social-media, check out his/her latest posts.
  • Engage in a meaningful manner. If you have viable points to add to what they’ve said, do so.
  • Continue doing this for a significant period of time.
  • Now, when you drop a LinkedIn request or an email to this person, they will recall your name.

This increases the chances that they will respond to your request.

Do not ask for a favour directly. 

Let’s say, you want to network with XYZ,

You can send a note akin to this-

Hey XYZ, I have been engaging with your posts for the last five months. It has been an enriching experience reading all your posts and learning from you. I see that you’re working as an entrepreneur and there must be a lot of help that you might need. I am a website designer. Is there anyway that I can work with you or volunteer on these specific points (mention the points in bullets), etc.

Be very clear and direct.

Show them how you can add value to their work that will allow you to sustain a meaningful relationship with them.

  1. Business Problem Solving 

Whether it is marketing, finance, or operations. Every business has multiple angles and functions. 

Business schools teach you how to analyse businesses. This is done through case studies.

At HBS, you are given a case to study. You learn things online and then come to class and discuss the case with your peers and teacher. 

Now, you can’t replicate this ecosystem around you on your own. But you can get access to some of these cases.

You can explore online resources like Harvard Business Review, The Economist, BCG Insights, or McKinsey Quarterly. 

Exposure to such content will help you build your business analytical skills. 

  1. Structured Thinking

If you want to do really well in your career, you must have the ability to think in structures and buckets. 

Structured thinking simply means the ability to break apart a problem into simple thinking frameworks. 

Look at this graphic below to understand the essence of structured thinking:

How can you develop this skill? 

Go online and type Kellogg Case Study book or NCR Case Study book. You can download them and read through them. This will allow you to develop the fundamentals of structured thinking. 

  1. The 80-20 Principle

To generate 80% of the results, you only need to put in 20% of the effort.

A classic example is- You have only three days until your final exam and you have not studied anything. What do you do? The smartest thing to do would be to solve the last 10 years question papers.

If you try reading all your textbooks and tuition notes, it will only stress you out with zero output.

If you incorporate the 80-20 rule into anything you are doing, it will sky-rocket your efficiency.

Thus, if you can successfully cultivate all these aforementioned skills, you will definitely set yourself on the right path to a flourishing career!

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