How to Prepare for Leadership

Leadership skills enhance your ability to succeed in any business endeavor you choose. To become an effective leader, you need an education in business functions, management roles and responsibilities and a plan to rapidly develop your management capabilities.

Fortune Magazine correlates eight key leadership skills to company performance: financial acumen, business savvy, compelling communications, driving execution, driving for results, entrepreneurship, influence and inspiring excellence. Companies with leadership strength in these areas have proven superior business outcomes, so they continually recruit for these abilities. It is no wonder then that top Master of Business Administration (MBA) online programs are dedicated to developing these capabilities, in addition to traditional business skills.

Consider the Outlook for MBAs

For aspiring business leaders, this is a historically opportune time to invest in an MBA. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), 75% of business school graduates say their degree resulted in faster advancement and 86% say that business school prepared them for leadership positions.

From mid-level to the C-suite, the majority of business school alumni report holding leadership roles. Leadership skills are increasingly vital for success as you work your way up the corporate ladder. More than half of mid-level alumni say advanced business degrees are absolutely essential. That percentage rises to 70% at the senior and executive levels.

The outlook for MBA online graduates is just as remarkable. Eighty-six percent of alumni from online MBA programs say that their programs prepared them for leadership roles. Eighty-two percent say their education increased their earning power.

Greater compensation comes with greater authority. Salaries for MBA graduates increase by over half compared to pre-MBA salaries. Post-MBA salaries can rise over 80% higher within five years.

Assess Your Natural Leadership Qualities

CEOs Jeff Bezos, Indra Nooyi, Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer each cultivated the knowledge and skills they would need to reach the pinnacle of leadership. Just as importantly, each started with natural-born leadership tendencies. If you have these innate abilities, an investment in an online MBA program is even more likely to result in more advanced roles and responsibilities. Effective leaders share the following attributes:

  • Big dreams and the relentless drive to achieve them
  • The ability to motivate and unite people in the pursuit of common objectives
  • Skills in critical thinking, including analyzing problems, framing issues and devising solutions
  • Communication skills, including the abilities to speak and write clearly and purposefully
  • Mental strength to handle heavy workloads under stressful working conditions.

Develop a Career Plan

The first step in preparing for leadership is to think about and write down the values that matter most to you in your life and in your career. Do you care about women’s roles in corporate America? Are you a staunch advocate of collaborative workspaces and team building exercises? Is there a communication style that you want to champion?

The next step is to think about the qualities that leaders develop. Leaders are self-starters. They take initiative, commit fully, get immersed in their work and actively engage with others to solve problems. They are decisive, responsible and accountable. As Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” They see the big picture and communicate their vision clearly, in writing and verbally. They are inspiring and diplomatic, yet authoritative when necessary. Rate yourself in terms of these qualities on a scale of one to five for each and check your progress quarterly.

With your core values and self-ratings to guide you, write down your short-term goals and long-term ambitions. Where would you like to be in five, 15 and 25 years? Think about the mile markers along the route to your goals. Would becoming an accomplished public speaker by this time next year, doubling your salary in five years or becoming a CFO in 15 years signify that you are on course to achieving your potential?

Consider the types of leadership roles and responsibilities available in the corporate structure. Are you interested in staying within your industry or within your business function? Identify the positions you would like to be promoted to at the middle management, senior, executive or even C-suite levels. Would you like to leave your departmental function or your industry and become an entrepreneur? Keep in mind, it is exceedingly difficult to make a double jump to a new function and a new industry.

Researching the roles, business functions and industries you see yourself in is paramount at this stage of career planning.

Enroll in an Online MBA

More than 197,089 students graduated with their MBA in the United States in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In fact, 24% of all master’s degrees awarded were MBAs in 2019. Why do so many professionals pursue an MBA? The GMAC says they are motivated by personal development, increased earning potential and development of managerial skills and knowledge. Of course, these goals are intertwined: Personal growth and increased earning power are inevitable in the course of developing leadership skills.

Think you may not be able to afford it? Online MBA programs limit the overhead expenses of on-campus programs, making them more affordable with no sacrifice in educational quality. Top programs develop leaders through career coaching and skill assessments, which supplement coursework in both business functions and management principles. Mentoring provides valuable, objective third-party feedback on your progress.

Throughout your coursework, you will have many opportunities to develop communication skills through presentations, collaborative skills through group work and problem-solving skills through scenario practice. As you refine these skills, you will develop a portfolio of accomplishments that can demonstrate your leadership capabilities to prospective employers.

Success in business is a means to an end; ultimately, it is about reaching your potential. One of the most important steps you can take toward leadership is to talk to retirees. Ask about their experiences and what mattered most. Was it their achievements, or was it the process of striving, of continual self-improvement? In hindsight, many people say the journey mattered more than the destination.

While you are at it, ask alumni if their MBAs were worth pursuing. If they are like most, they would do it all over again, knowing the outcomes they achieved and the leaders they became.

Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.

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