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3 Skills the Best MBA Programs Teach

One of the most common questions we get from our clients in professional roles is, “What’s the value of participating in a course like Dale Carnegie vs. getting my MBA?”

Both help leaders and organizations perform, but historically have focused on different skills. MBA programs traditionally taught “harder” business skills such as accounting, corporate finance, economics, and business strategy. Dale Carnegie courses help people become better at the “softer” human relations, communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.

Today, the best MBA programs focus substantially more courses on softer skills and Dale Carnegie courses focus even more intentionally on quantifiable business results. The intersection of three key areas is where you’ll want to focus your own development and coaching of others, regardless of the development path you choose:

1. Speaking

Wharton, consistency rated as a top MBA program, requires speaking as a core class. Virtually every Dale Carnegie course focuses on speaking as a key element in the curriculum.

It’s almost impossible to influence an organization without having the ability to communicate your ideas during in-person meetings, conference calls, and video streaming. Here are three things you can do for yourself and others to ensure speaking skills improve:

  • Provide a roadmap for success with books like The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie and The Story Factor by Annette Simmons. Both these books provide clear, practical roadmaps to speaking.

  • Ensure that novice speakers have opportunities to present where they will likely have success. Building self-confidence in speaking is an important first goal. Start small and move up.

  • After presentations, provide 75% positive feedback with evidence and 1–2 suggestions for improvement. That’s what we do in our High Impact Presentations courses.

2. Leadership

Almost every MBA program values leadership. Northwestern’s Kellogg school, for example, requires Leadership in Organizations as a core requirement, as do many top programs. Dale Carnegie has, for years, highlighted human relationships principles that focus exclusively on leading others.

Leadership is ultimately about doing what’s right for the leader, the follower, and the organization (if you ignore some of those stakeholders, you get this). Here’s how to improve leadership skills for yourself and your team:

  • Pick a leadership model that resonates with you and start there. Solid, accessible books for this include Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, and The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner.

  • Leadership development is wasted when it doesn’t contribute to real results. Identify a project where the organization would benefit from results and use that as a training ground for new leadership skills. We require this in our Leadership Training for Managers courses.

  • Schedule regular coaching and mentoring sessions with direct reports to help them navigate obstacles. If you’ve improving your own leadership, identify a mentor who can help (here’s some great advicefrom the Drucker Institute).

3. Organizational Behavior

Harvard’s MBA requires a course in organizational behavior in the first semester, as do many other world-class programs. Both Dale Carnegie and MBA courses aim to change behavior in individuals that will lead to meaningful improvements in the behavior of the entire organization.

One of the best ways to better understand how an organization behaves is to influence a change in that behavior for a meaningful outcome. Here’s where to start:

  • Fantastic books like The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, Leading Change by John Kotter, and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team provide practical models that help influence meaningful, lasting change.

  • Help someone you are leading identify a problem in the organization where a change is necessary and relevant.

  • Support the change by helping that individual put together a team of people that support the change. If it’s you leading it yourself, identify 2–3 others who are willing to help in a substantial way.

Whether you attend a Dale Carnegie course, start an MBA program, or create a development path for yourself or your organization, focusing on improving these three skill areas above will help you support real results.

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