Written 2000 years ago, the ancient Chinese warfare book about victory on the battlefield, The Art of War, has been influential in its impact on leadership guidance and business strategy. Author Sun Tzu writes, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat”.1 This can be interpreted within the business context to mean that business operations and developments are futile without a clear strategic method and goal in mind. Successful business growth will indeed fail if the approach hasn’t been systematically planned.
Business strategy and leadership go hand in hand. The concepts and methods of both are so holistically intertwined that their success depends on one another almost entirely. Implementing and executing a strategy requires sound leadership skills.2 Effective leaders communicate and lead towards a collective aim, and implement positive change. Their goal isn’t necessarily about making the best decisions, but rather ensuring the best strategic choices are being made at all levels.3 Strategy is planned leadership.
In order to lead and develop the most effective business strategies, management professionals need to gain a comprehensive understanding of their business environment. The skills learnt within a Master of Business Administration Degree, or MBA, consider a business in its entirety.
Harnessing both hard and soft skills, an MBA studies everything in a business from its financial state to its marketing power, and imparts valuable management skills and abilities for many key areas of business. Strategy, a hard skill, and leadership, considered a soft skill, are essential MBA skills a business leader needs, and are both key to success in the workplace and for career progression.
Their goal isn’t necessarily about making the best decisions, but rather ensuring the best strategic choices are being made at all levels.
The MBA essential skills that matter
Forbes accurately describes what MBA programmes should do; they need to look beyond the current business environment and prepare professionals for the business challenges of tomorrow.4 In the rapidly evolving business landscape, the ability to adapt, prepare, and lead through the challenges and changes is quickly becoming the most important business skill for those wanting to succeed.
Recruiters and employers are increasingly shifting their focus to ‘soft’ skills, particularly the ones an MBA imparts on future business leaders.5 Financial Times investigated what, exactly, employers want from MBA graduates. Their research showed that from a list of top five important skills, 76% of employers chose the ability to work with a wide variety of people, and 72% chose the skill of being able to prioritise.6 This shows that there is now increased value placed on essential leadership and strategy skills learnt from the MBA foundation.
Recruiters and employers are increasingly shifting their focus to ‘soft’ skills, particularly the ones and MBA imparts on future business leaders.
Learning leadership: Why soft skills matter
MBAs are often credited with training the ‘business leaders of the future’ – it’s the training for aspiring CEOs, entrepreneurs, and managers.7 From this collective aim, initiating leadership is at the core of the programme’s purpose. Leadership is considered a soft skill that many possess but struggle to proactively and effectively implement.
Among the 10 soft skills an MBA toolkit builds upon, leadership is listed as the most essential.8 Leadership enables management skills and abilities to be effectively communicated and prepares you to understand the needs of employees and the overall company culture. It’s built upon a clear mission and vision for the future, and follows a specific strategy.9
A business leader positions their organisation in the competitive environment, and consistently considers market trends.10 At a certain point in the leadership journey, leading becomes strategic.11
How to harness strategy and leadership for business success
Strategy is closely aligned with leadership in that they both impact a company’s success or failure. Strategy cues leadership, and vice versa; it’s through leadership that strategy is executed. Strategic capabilities vary amongst leaders and businesses, however organisations need to have professionals who can develop and execute business plans. Categorised below are the most common competencies expected from leaders and managers:12
1.The ability to design a go-to-market strategy
Leaders need to be equipped to analyse internal business aspects, including external economic trends and the general competitive landscape. Having a holistic overview, leaders need to select the best strategic positioning in the market.
2. The ability to execute a strategic plan
Leaders need to be able to develop an operations plan in order to execute the above market strategy.
3. The ability to design the organisation to optimise the strategic plan
If the above is considered strategic execution, then this is considered strategic alignment. A leader needs to ensure that key processes, structure, culture, and metrics align with the go-to-market strategy as well as the operations plan.
4. The ability to anticipate how the strategy will impact all divisions of the business
As the business world becomes increasingly digitised, market changes will constantly call for business leaders to adapt and change accordingly. As one business component changes, leaders need to systematically assess how those changes will impact other business factors.
At a certain point in the leadership journey, leading becomes strategic.
Leadership and strategy are MBA essential skills a business leader needs throughout their working journey. They are the conceptual frameworks that leaders depend on when planning to progress within their career.
Sun Tzu writes, “Victory in war is not repetitious but adapts in form endlessly”.13 An MBA toolkit can prepare you for the ever-evolving business world. Leadership models and methods need to constantly adapt for each strategic business approach. Gaining these two imperative business management skills could be the difference between your defeat in the market, and succeeding in the business war field.
- 1 Lewis, S. (Jun, 2018). ‘Creating business success through a well-defined strategy’. Retrieved from Forbes.
- 2 Rihal, C. (Dec, 2017). ‘The importance of leadership to organizational success’. Retrieved from Catalyst.
- 3 Rihal, C. (Dec, 2017). ‘The importance of leadership to organizational success’. Retrieved from Catalyst.
- 4 (Apr, 2018). ‘How important are MBAs in the tech world?’. Retrieved from Forbes.
- 5 Moules, J and Nilsson, P. (Aug, 2017). ‘What employers want from MBA graduates – and what they don’t’. Retrieved from Financial Times.
- 6 Moules, J and Nilsson, P. (Aug, 2017). ‘What employers want from MBA graduates – and what they don’t’. Retrieved from Financial Times.
- 7 Hanbury-Tenison, M. (Jan, 2015). ‘Leadership is the most important skill that you will learn on an MBA’. Retrieved from MBA World.
- 8 ‘10 important soft skills developed by MBA students’. Retrieved from Villanova University.
- 9 Rihal, C. (Dec, 2017). ‘The importance of leadership to organizational success’. Retrieved from Catalyst.
- 10 Rihal, C. (Dec, 2017). ‘The importance of leadership to organizational success’. Retrieved from Catalyst.
- 11 ‘What are soft skills, and why does every MBA grad need them?’. Retrieved from Villanova University.
- 12 King, S. (Aug, 2017). ‘4 strategic capabilities needed in leaders’. Retrieved from Wisconsin School of Business.
- 13 Bird, D. (2017). ‘Business lessons from ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu’. Retrieved from Startups.co